WRITING THROUGH GRIEF IS A NEW BLOG POST SERIES. THIS IS MY HONEST RECOUNT OF MY GRIEF AT THE LOSS OF LONNIE WHO PASSED SATURDAY, JANUARY 16, 2021. THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE READ DEAR UNIVERSE, I GET IT NOW, WILL KNOW SHE’S BEEN THERE FROM THE BEGINNING. THOSE OF YOU WHO KNOW ME PERSONALLY WILL KNOW SHE WAS MY SECOND MOTHER.
Slowly the number of cards I’ve had to get for Mother’s day has dwindled. Not that many years ago I would go and pick out four, standing in the card aisle at the grocery store or pharmacy for upwards of thirty minutes. Now I’m down to one. Likely, it will still take me as long.
I get lost reading cards, because I love to find the really cleverly or beautifully written ones. (What can I say, I’m a writer even when I’m choosing cards.) More importantly, I am not a gift and card snatcher. I don’t just pick something up for the sake of getting it done. I’ve always wanted the gifts I give people to be meaningful. So on Mother’s day, I would always carefully select each card for each person based on them and our relationship.
I would buy one for my paternal grandmother. She would want something on the softer side and maybe, because of her devout Catholicism, something with a more spiritual bent. When I would give it to her in person, she would wrap me in a hug, smile softly, and display it on the coffee table with the others. She was happy with the simple thoughtfulness alone, so there wasn’t really a card you could get that wouldn’t please her. She passed in 2012.
I needed one for my maternal grandmother. Something on the funnier side. She had this terrific sense of humor and I loved to see her whole body erupt into laughter. The times she actually laughed to tears was the best. I can still picture her flipping open the inside of cards, reading them quickly, then shutting them instantly, holding them to her chest as she tilts her head back and her shoulders and chest start to shake as she laughs at the punchline and begins to pass the card around to be enjoyed by others. She passed in 2020.
Obviously, I needed one for my own mother. My mother is not an overly emotional person, but she’s no without feelings either. I needed something not too gushy but not lacking sentiment which was no easy find. Most Mother’s day cards are either sickeningly sweet or completely humorous. And all of them are pinks and purples while my mother is more earth tones. My mother’s card has always been one of the harder ones to choose from as it’s often the hardest to find. But, I’m happy to say, my mother is still alive. So I will happily scour the card section to find the near-perfect card for this year.
The fourth card was for Lonnie. One of my biggest beefs in the card sections of stores has always been the minimal amount of cards for those who are special to you but not blood-related. You’ve got cards labeled for moms, dads, brothers, sisters, wives, husbands, daughters, sons, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, and grandfathers, and then friends. There is no section for “people are more like family than you blood relatives.”
I have always been a person who has had tighter bonds with people not related to me than people who are. That isn’t to say I didn’t have strong relationships with my parents or siblings or grandparents. But I have not been ridiculously close to my uncles, aunts, or cousins to warrant the need for those card sections in the store. I need the “like a sister,” “like a mother,” “true blue bestie,” “kindred spirit,” and “part of my soul” sections. Family is important but family comes in such wonderfully diverse ways why haven’t the card industries figured that out?
Even if I had those sections to choose from, I’m not sure they would do a card for my Lonnie justice. She was so special, so rare, not even those cards would have probably captured the deep soul-binding tethers between us. I would look for those tagged as “Someone special” (or whatever language that was likened to that) in the Mother’s Day card section and see if anything fit. If I didn’t find anything, I would go with the card that had the sentiments that most matched what I wanted to share even if the card used the word ‘Mom’ and she wasn’t my mom technically, speaking.
Buying a card for her and my own mother was always a bit uncomfortable. I never wanted to seem that my own mother didn’t hold an esteemed place in my life and heart or that she could be replaced. She could not be. But it felt equally inauthentic to not acknowledge Lonnie’s place in my life. There were moments in those awkward pubescent and adolescent years that I felt I belonged more in Lonnie’s home than my own. Feeling so unseen and misunderstood inside the confine of my own, you know the way most adolescents do.
Truth is, and I’m sure my parents can see it now, Lonnie helped raise me. Not just by being the daycare provider that kept me safe and fed while they worked, but in the way that you teach a child about the world and how to exist in it. Everything from the practical (like the right way to wash dishes) to the matter-of-factual (like preparing for death) to the emotional (like bonds that surpass blood) and everything in between.
Lonnie taught me how to set the table and do a puzzle. She strengthened my math skills by teaching me games that involved counting. She gave me space to create, imagine, dance, and be myself. Lonnie taught me about love and acceptance of all people, being the first person to talk to me about race and sexual orientation and other peoples’ intolerance. She was first person to teach me about classism and privilege even if we didn’t use those words then. And she gave me permission to question anything I was taught and to look at altnerative answers and make an opinion for myself.
Truth is, the number of hours I spent at Lonnie’s house and with Lonnie surpassed the hours I spent with my own parents in those first however many years until I no longer needed to be there after school. That doesn’t discredit or diminish my parents roles which were profound. And anyone who knows me and knows them cannot deny I’m theirs. But Lonnie’s presence and influence in my life were unbridled, too. Well after I didn’t need to go there afterschool, I kept her close in my heart and nurture our continued relationship. She did the same.
“I love all the kids that come through my home,” she would say, “But you’re one of the special ones.” And by the time I was in highschool, when I was out with just Lonnie and Bruce and I would meet someone they knew that I didn’t, I would always be introduced as “our other daughter” or “second daughter.” Said with genuine unconditional love and adoration. Sometime it would come with the explanation that I went through their daycare, sometimes we didn’t bother with the details. The essence of the statement was the same.
This year there will be no card for Lonnie, but my heart will not carry her any less than any other day. Once a daughter, always a daughter, no matter what form that takes. And regardless of whether it’s in life or in death. Some bonds cannot be unbroken. Some bonds cannot be captured inside a card.