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When I Met a Woman With a Disability Who Reminded Me of My Child


It happens like it always does. I see a family with a child with disabilities, especially an adult child, especially an adult woman, an individual who reminds me of the girl I still miss every day, and my world freezes. I can’t take my eyes off the family. I want to get closer. I want to know more. I want to be included in their world. I want to talk to them. I want to hug them. I want to tell them I “get it.” I’m not sure what it is I want, but I want. So I do the most natural thing I can think of, I stalk. Yesterday I stalked this family of five.

Without so much as a second thought, I abandoned the spot I told my husband, Curt, he’d find me (outside a shop on the boardwalk of the little beachside town we are visiting) to follow the family wherever it was they were headed. Fortunately they didn’t wander far. They stopped at a pavilion overlooking the beach. They sat down, so I sat down next to them. Not too close, but not too far. I watched the woman and her brother. She tickled his stomach. He was sweet with her, they laughed. The mom and the sister walked away to take some pictures. The dad sat next to his daughter. I wanted to say something. I didn’t know what to say. I looked down. I told the woman I liked her shoes, because I did. They were shoes that without a doubt, I’d have bought for my girl. White Birkenstocks with a flowered print. They would have fit her wide foot, she could slip them easily on and off, and they were cool. She’d have loved them! The woman, who probably knew I was staring at her, didn’t respond. Her dad quietly reminded her to say thank you, and she did.

And then I just sat there, stealing sideways glances at the woman whose profile felt so familiar. Her long, thick dark hair, the way she sat, a little hunched at the shoulders with her hands resting on her lap, the light color of her skin, the shape of her nose, the comfortable way she hung with her dad and watched all that was going on around her. I watched without intruding, I remembered, I tried not to get sad, and I thought about how different life is for us now that our girl is gone.

When Curt found me, it took only a moment for him to realize why I’d wandered. He sat then and held my hand, and remembered with me. He’s not quite the stalker I am though, nor is he into the strange comfort I sometimes find from just being sad, but he knew I wasn’t done yet, so he took a little stroll toward the beach to allow me all the time I needed.

And I sat. And I watched the family. And I said nothing. They were going to leave. I actually wished a gust of wind would take the hat from my head and blow it into their space. I even loosened my hat from atop my head so that might happen. It didn’t. They left. I went to find Curt.

Walking off the boardwalk, telling Curt how disappointed I was in myself for not talking to the family, we ran into them again. This time though, it was just the parents who were sitting alone at a small table. I seized the opportunity. Without knowing what I was going to say, I walked up to them, and heard myself make introductions, and in a crackly almost teary voice, I asked them how old their daughter was. I told them their daughter reminded me so much of one of our daughters and told them their family reminded me so much of our own. The next thing I knew, the thing that often happens when I reveal myself in one of these stalking experiences (I did mention that this wasn’t my first right?) the mom of the woman stood up and wrapped me in a hug. We talked for a bit and found out that indeed, our families were alike. We talked of the incredible joys as well as a few of the heartaches that come along with being a parent of a child with a disability. We connected for a moment, and it was good. Selfishly, it was what I needed, and beautifully the other mom told me it was what she needed too. The husbands connected and then we got to meet their darling daughter. She spoke to us about the upcoming wedding of her brother and the Pinterest page she’d made of wedding ideas for them! (Something I imagine our sweet girl would have done without a doubt.)

Stalking complete, and better than I ever imagined. We said our goodbyes to the family and walked to a nearby bar for a Margherita and a bit of a debriefing. When the bartender told us our drinks had been paid for, we looked up to see the dad of the woman, the woman who reminded us so much of our girl, raise his glass in toast to ours.

Image Credits: Shelley Brouwer