Look for the helpers

Yesterday was the day of my youngest son’s senior prom. I enjoyed the preparation and getting to be a part of it, especially since he was the only one of my kids to attend prom.

My son’s girlfriend’s guardian drove them to and from prom, then to the after-party. I brought over snacks and a change of clothes for my son between the prom and the after-party (and I also drove both of them home later from the after-party.)

The most surprising part of the night was that I spent almost 2 hours in between the prom and the after-party talking with Dylan’s girlfriend’s guardian. Though I’ve obviously known him on a cursory level for the four years that Dyl and his girlfriend have been dating, I never really had a real conversation with him until tonight.

I was surprised that we talked fairly easily. His wife was my son’s girlfriend’s grandmother and she died of cancer 8 years ago. There was a fairly significant age gap between them, so he was the exact same age when his spouse got sick as I was when my husband was diagnosed.

I respect him a great deal for the loyalty and care he has shown to my son’s girlfriend. Her grandmother actually had custody of her because her own parents were unfit and he still stuck around and raised her after his wife died.

I sent him a thank you card about a month ago, thanking him for all he’s done to help feed and drive around my son over these four years. I also wrote in the card that he’s done a wonderful job raising my son’s girlfriend and that she’s such a lovely and polite young woman. Yesterday, I noticed that they still had my thank you card on the mantle of the fireplace, which pleased me. (You never know when what seems like a small gesture will be so meaningful to the recipient.)

He didn’t really have to raise her. Technically, he’s her “step-grandpa” and apparently had only played that role for a few years before taking on the role of raising her permanently. He really loved his wife and hasn’t remarried since he lost her to cancer. He’s always struck me as having an air of sadness about him.

Last night, we talked quite a bit about having spouses with cancer and about how heartbreaking and challenging it can be to navigate that role. We also talked about raising kids to adulthood and how we were both in such a hurry to be on our own at that age, yet we both fully support wanting to keep our kids at home until they’re ready to leave.

He found out from my son’s girlfriend that I’m a fan of George Michael and he is, too, so he gave me a biography of George Michael that he just finished.

Overall, it was just a really nice and friendly conversation. In so many ways, we don’t have much in common otherwise. (No, I can’t see myself ever dating him after my husband’s gone, for example.) But we found enough common ground to have a lovely conversation and I really enjoyed it.

In some ways, he’s been a very unexpected source of help, especially as my husband is going through cancer treatment. He’s really helped a lot with driving around my son, especially from school events. In all honesty, I don’t feel like many people are helping us otherwise.

Sometimes people come into your life and you don’t know why. When my son and his girlfriend started dating four years ago, I remember my son first telling me that his girlfriend’s guardian was her “step-grandpa” and being so confused by what that meant (especially because I don’t have any divorces or remarriages in my own family.) But for all intents and purposes, he’s her dad, and she usually refers to him that way.

At the time, I had no idea what I would come to have in common with him during the course of my son’s relationship with his girlfriend. There’s something kinda sad about the fact that what we have in common is having spouses with cancer. But I have to admit that it was just really nice to have a conversation with someone who totally gets what I’m going through.

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