January 30, 2013 in Random Thoughts
Read The Trouble With Secrets, Part 1 here.
During my son’s teacher’s unexpectedly early maternity leave, his class was bounced around from substitute teacher to substitute teacher with no continuity and no lesson plan left to follow. Eventually, a well-run kindergarten classroom had disintegrated into a glorified daycare. Fortunately, us parents were a vocal bunch, and the principal finally recognized the severity of the problem. He hired a permanent substitute teacher to be in place until Mrs. D could return, in the hopes that actual learning would be re-instated.
That’s how I got to know Mrs. P, a warm human being who drew our kids into her arms and nurtured them with love and hot chocolate on cold days. She gave them her heart, for which I will always be thankful. But stability was still out of the question for my son’s class, for Mrs. P was battling cancer. Our permanent sub needed plenty of subs herself.
The following year, I sat in a church pew and watched pictures of Mrs. P—far too young, beautifully blond and happy, with gorgeous daughters and a loving husband—flash across a screen above her coffin. I sat in that pew surrounded by her fellow teachers, her students’ parents, and her friends, all of whom were well-versed in her battle against cancer, and I listened to the heartbreak, anger, disappointment, shock, and betrayal in Mrs. P’s mother’s voice as she told us all that not only had she lost her beloved daughter, she didn’t even know she had cancer. Mrs. P never told her.
It was easy: they lived far away from each other. It was hard to visit during the school year; her daughters were busy with their activities during the summer; they were going to come, but she had the flu; they’d make new plans next month, next year…
I felt every inch of Mrs. P’s mother’s anger. She had been robbed of the chance to help her daughter, robbed of the chance to grieve alongside her, robbed of any chance to say goodbye. We had those chances. I got to give her a stolen hug in the workroom as she made copies. I reached my arms around her too-skinny body, careful not to dislodge her wig, as she acknowledged the fact that she was not going to get the chance to see how wonderful her daughters would turn out, who they would fall in love with, what beautiful children they would have…and who was I? A fellow parent. Someone I only saw in the school.
Was it fair that I got to see this side of Mrs. P and her mother didn’t get to? Not even close.
Why didn’t she tell her own mom? Was there a rift? Did they not like each other? I don’t think so. They spoke on the phone often, long newsy conversations designed to substitute for actual visits.
Did she not want to burden her mom? Hurt her? Was she trying to spare her the pain?
I’ll never know, and Mrs. P’s mom may never know either. She’ll have to spend the rest of her life dealing with the repercussions of this huge secret Mrs. P kept from her but shared with others.
Of course I have to respect Mrs. P’s privacy, but it was her mom who paid the price. I have to wonder: was it worth it? Would a small sacrifice of privacy on Mrs. P’s part have made the grief her mom had to deal with a little less stabbing?
Stay Tuned for The Trouble of Secrets, Part 3