"That's a special little girl you have."
This from a friend of the family who has called to check in on us. And by us, I mostly mean me. I'm doing a fantastic job of leading the world at large to believe I'm handling Mom's death gracefully, but there are a handful of intuitive people, friends of my mother's, mostly, who know the bond we had and know how it was at the end, who call me from time to time to make sure I'm not crouched in a corner with exposed wrists and a packet of razor blades.
When anyone asks me how I'm doing, I feel like Han Solo at the intercom on the Death Star. Everything's perfectly alright now. We're fine. We're all fine here now, thank you. How are you? And then I blast the intergalactic PA system, because clearly I'm not fine and I don't want Imperial company.
And inevitably, after whoever is calling me that day finds out that I am still hanging on to the ledge and have not yet let go, she asks me about Ainsley. And I pause, because how Ainsley is doing is a really fantastic question.
She did wonderfully at the funeral. She played "Amazing Grace" on the guitar and even though the entire room starting sniffing while she played it (let's not kid ourselves; the communal weeping is the entire point of "Amazing Grace" at a funeral), she kept herself together with a preternatural poise. During the entire experience, Ainsley has not shed a tear. It has caused me both worry and frustration; I have a hard time believing she's not devastated over the loss of a woman who loved her beyond reason and who was a huge part of her everyday life. And the part of me who has wept nearly every minute I've found myself alone in my house the past 3 weeks is almost angry that she isn't wearing her heart on a tear-and snot-covered sleeve.
I see small signs, though, of her grief. Little things that, if I look too long, make my soul hurt. Like when she comes down the stairs every morning carrying the little stuffed lamb that someone gave Mom while she was in the hospital. Or like this morning, when I caught her reflection in the rear-view mirror, carefully stroking the tiny gold angel pendant that was the last necklace my mother wore and which has now become hers.
They are subtle signs that behind that resilience that children have, that ability to continue to seek joy and embrace fun shortly after a death, she hurts. And occasionally, but not as often as her non-stoic mother would like, she fesses up.
Ainsley competed in a regional speech competition last weekend and, to our surprise, advanced to state. This is fairly surprising for a child who talks so quietly in everyday conversation that I have to ask her to repeat herself 5 or 6 times and still sometimes have to nod and hope that I didn't just agree to buy her a pony.
I found myself in an inexplicable funk shortly after we got home from the competition; the day loomed large ahead of me and free time is currently not my friend. I watched Ainsley and Jason frolic around the house, laughing and having fun. I thought of how very proud Mom would be of her "baby." Of what a beautiful girl she has become. Of how very fully she lives her life. My heart became even heavier thinking that "Mamaw" was not going to be a part of this life anymore.
"Oh, Ainsley," I sighed later that night, when it was just the two of us getting clean and ready for bed. "I really miss your Mamaw tonight. If she were still here, she would be so proud of you today."
"I know. I thought of her when I first got up this morning and thought of her again right before I gave my speech."
"Yeah, I thought of her right before I started talking and decided I was going to do it for Mamaw."
The lump in my throat eventually went away, though it might have taken some tequila to dissolve it.
Yes, family friends. That is a very special little girl that I have.