Updated: Sep 18
I told a complete stranger my story. He smiled reassuringly and nodded in between, but he didn't interrupt me. He just let me talk. I don't know how long I talked, but at some point, my voice started to become rougher. It was only then that the man interrupted me. He put his dark hand on my slightly trembling one and said, "Give me a moment, please. I will quickly go and get you some tea."
He stood up and left his coat and suitcase behind. I watched as he wound through the crowd to the next coffee stall, joining the queue. My gaze wavered and a new tear rolled down my lashes. He looked so much like my son. I had to smile despite my tears. Actually, he didn't look like him after all. My son was a little smaller and had lighter skin. His eyes, on the other hand, were darker, almost like chocolate. But that look. That friendly expression in his eyes and the slight smile. These are the two things the stranger shared with my son. But no longer. My son was no more. Dead. Yes, he was. He was dead.
The drops of tears kept following each other. I wiped them away with a hand that seemed to grow more unsteady with each passing year, a hand marked by age spots and dry skin, a map of a life full of love and loss. And yet, amidst the pain, I found myself chuckling at the absurdity of it all. Here I was, an old woman, still alive, while my dear son was no longer with us. He had grown into a man, with a family of his own, but his time on this earth was cut short, leaving a trail of grief and heartache in his wake.
A slight pressure on my shoulder made me startle. The young man handed me a steaming paper cup.
"Here," he said in a calm voice, carefully placing my hands around the cup. "Drink this."
He lifted his coat from the bench and sat down again.
"My dear, you know, I won't pretend to understand your pain. It must be unbearable to lose a child and I won't be able to say anything to ease it for you. No one will be able to. But I have also lost loved ones and I'm sure you have too. There is nothing you can do. You can only learn to live with the pain and try to comfort others."
He smiled sadly at me. It was clear to me that he was right. I had lost people—my parents and my husband. Friends and family. Well, I was old; that's life. I knew loss, and I knew grief, pain, and suffering. But I had survived it all, and now I had survived my beloved son.
I managed to bring a smile to my face and thank the stranger for his kindness and kind words. He eyed me anxiously, but then I think he decided that I would not lose my temper anymore. He rose.
"I wish you a good flight." He put his hand on my shoulder.
"I hope you arrive safely."
I rose too, albeit more slowly, and took his hand.
"Be undaunted. You are a good man. Remember that the pain is worth it if you have known love in return."
My voice trembled slightly, as did my hand, but my vision was clear again. I let go of his hand, and he nodded, reaching for his suitcase and following the signs to his gate.
I grabbed my suitcase as well. I still had a few minutes, so I drank the drink, which did not taste like tea. But the hot brew did awaken my spirits. I threw the cup into the bin next to my bench and looked around for the sign for Gate 32. I found a sign and started walking slowly. My hip was giving me a little trouble, but I was okay. I didn't have far to go. A queue was already forming at the gate. In a few minutes, the entrance to the plane would begin.
Through the large glass front, I could watch the sun set. The world darkened. My reflection became clearer and clearer in the glass. An old woman looked back at me. An old woman marked by life. Wrinkles and age spots all over her face and hands. A face marked by sadness and pain. But my eyes remained dry.
I will get on the plane, and comfort my children. I will comfort my son's family, and I will not add to their burden by drowning in my own grief. I will get on the plane and fly to my son's funeral. I will be there for all of them. Because I am their mother, their grandmother. The figure in the mirror straightened a little. The tremor in my hand did not disappear, it would not disappear until I died. But my eyes would remain dry, and my voice would no longer tremble when I spoke again. I knew that. I would be there for them all, and I would listen to them as the stranger had done for me. Because he was right. There was nothing anyone could say that would make it easier for me, but maybe I could manage to live with it more easily if I could give comfort to my family.
I had lost my temper at the airport, but that was behind me now, and now I would be strong for the others. A flight attendant stepped up to the microphone and explained that we should now come to the counter with our documents. I straightened up a bit more. I fought to contain my pain as I dragged my suitcase to the counter. The flight attendant gave me a smile, which I managed to return. She checked my papers and wished me a good flight. And I walked to the plane. It would take me to see my son one last time.
Written by India Wittmershaus.
Cover photo by Clay Banks.