I started a new television series today on HBO called The Leftovers. The story is based on a paranormal event that occurred on October 14th across the United States wherein several thousand people of all ages “departed”. They vanished from the earth with no further trace and the viewer is left to witness how those who are left behind cope after the departure.
This would be an everyday weekend occurrence — starting a new series, on a Sunday, in my pajamas. Today is a bit different. Today is the 22nd anniversary of my 2.5 month old son’s (Grant) death. It is also a reminder of all of my other losses – both sets of grandparents, my uncle, my mama, countless relatives, my three very favorite cousins, my most recent cousin who passed of a sudden heart attack at 44, leaving behind devastation – precious leftovers, in the form of her husband, three beautiful children, her parents, brother, cousins, friends. She was loved by all. I am only 47, supposedly too young for all this death.
We are all leftovers in some form–left behind to muddle through the remainder of what is our everyday life. Many of us have staples. I refer to staples as the basic things that require us to get out of bed every single morning to do normal everyday tasks. When Grant died, I had my husband, my mama and many friends looking out for me. Truth be told, it was my two year old son, Alex, who kept me putting one foot in front of the other. He was so little. He brought joy in huge hours of darkness. His dad was important, too. However, he was at work for 10 hours a day. I was home for an additional 8 weeks after Grant died and Alex was what kept me moving. The friends and family were not to be dismissed – their involvement and their guidance was important. Case and point – friends calling at odd hours when I was on my knees, in tears, buried in condolence letters and my child’s hospital homemade death gown. When my husband asked me to put Grant’s baby blanket away because I had been sleeping with it under my arms for weeks. My mama and I took turns keeping each other afloat – she took Grant’s death extremely hard.
The remarkable thing about us Leftovers is that we can spot each other out of a crowd. It is almost like an aura. It was one of the few things that bonded me with my mother-in-law. It was not consistent, but it was there in fleeting moments, like when she ran off the State officer that showed up at our doorstep verifying my extended disability claim, wagging her finger “You leave her alone. She just lost her child”.
I have a dear friend who lost her son at 12. I have another who lost her husband before 50, with twin boys under the age of 5. My sister-in-law who lost her husband at 30 while pregnant with her second child and the direct ripple effect it had on his parents, his brother (my children’s father). My grandparents lost an infant child; my other grandparents who lost their son after over two decades of a heroin addiction; multiple friends who have lost parents to dementia, Parkinson’s, cancer (like my mama), separation, misunderstandings…..all years too early.
I recall spending weeks at Children’s Hospital while Grant was sick, expecting a recovery, watching children come and go. Some went home and some did not – it was the luck of the draw. It had nothing to do with statistics. It’s endless and it comes way too soon. I was a leftover at age 25 with my son.
So what do we do with ourselves, us leftovers?
We breathe deeply. We turn to each other. We attempt to practice grace. I personally never bring lasagna to a wake. We received close to 10 lasagna meals when Grant died. I used them all (and was thankful to all for the kindness and generosity). I froze them and used them throughout the first year when cooking at the end of a horrendous day was just too much to think about.
We play music. I wondered for months after I went back to work why I cried so many tears in my car by myself and I never saw my husband cry. Then one day, I climbed into his two-door, 1980-something brown Honda Civic hatchback and saw that he had a recorded cassette tape of music in his stereo from Grant’s funeral. Just because I did not see him cry, it was not okay to assume that did not. He did, in his own private space, in his own way. So, we also allow for others to grieve in their own way without judgment.
We talk. We share. We hope it helps. We lend an ear. We ask more than “how are you doing?” We ask “what can we do and for how long do you need me?” We ask, “When, where and how”. We volunteer. We try to share our story – our leftovers – because there is always someone that needs to know they are not alone. They have a friend, a confident, a support system, someone else who has been leftover.
I have to tell you, to be perfectly candid, when someone tells me they do not like leftovers to me it begs the question, “Have they just never had a metaphoric need for leftovers–for nourishment, as a staple, to get from point A to point B?” I don’t mean this statement as a judgment, but as a consideration.
As a Leftover, I value every morsel – whether it is physical or emotional. Sustenance — in the form of food (when you need it and you don’t have the energy to make anything else) or a repeat friend who is just checking in for the 5th time in a week. If I can pass my Leftovers on to someone who needs them at any time of any day, you can bet 100% of the time, This Leftover will always give to another who has been leftover.