It always takes me by surprise, being recognized. I know that with every audience I speak to, the chances increase that some time in the future one of those people and I will run into each other. But still, it surprises me when it happens.
I was sitting looking at veggie deli slices trying to pick out which one I wanted for sandwiches. A routine, comforting, thing to do. A woman approached me, I only noticed her because she'd been glancing at me as I made my way through the store. I'm not naturally paranoid, so I didn't think she was following me. She was. I'd make an easy victim.
"Are you Dave Hingsburger," she asks. I find this a funny question. At my weight and as a guy lumbering around in a wheelchair, there are few other people I could be. As this was running through my mind, I said, "Yes."
"I heard you speak in Vancouver and the World Down Syndrome Congress," she began. I immediately remembered the experience. I was terrified. I'm a nervous speaker to begin with but this was a huge lecture. There were people from around the world. I was on an enormous stage. There were two speakers before me, I had to wait my turn - my anxiety growing by the second. If I were to fail, this was a spectacular place to fail. I remember looking out over the audience, it was dark in the room and bright on the stage so I saw little. I could see the translation booths at the back of the room. My heart went to my throat ... and I began.
"That was an amazing experience," I said. She looked at me and nodded indicating that it had been an amazing experience for her as well. "I remember the whole thing vividly," I continued as she seemed a bit lost for words, "it was an honour to speak in front of so many parents, the love that you all have for your children could actually be felt up on stage."
Her eyes teared up and I asked her if she was OK.
"My little girl just ..." now she was openly crying and I knew the rest of what she was going to say. This was tragedy and loss, that was all. I never know what to say in these circumstances, there are no words in the English language that adequately deal with grief. There are no words that convey comfort well enough. None. I said, simply, "I'm sorry."
"May I tell you a bit about her?" she said. I said, "Of course."
"No one wants me to talk about her, I'm supposed to forget her. Move on. Even my husband ..." her voice trailed off. I simply waited. Joe came round the corner, I could see on his face that he had been wondering why I was taking so long deciding over faux luncheon meat. He saw her, noticed her tears, saw that we were talking and simple backed a way with a nod of his head.
Then she talked, she described to me a wonderful little girl. A little girl who faced health issues from the beginning, who managed to find every spot of joy that she could, a girl not fazed by the medical appointments, a child who could comfort her mother when her mother should have been comforting her. A child deeply and sadly missed. "At first, I didn't even know if I wanted her, now I'm finding it difficult living without her."
This is the transformation, of course, what begins as a cold clinical diagnosis ends up being a warm loving child. Children with disabilities have the amazing capacity for morphing from 'other' into 'mine' ... they are shape shifters with the ability to fit into the crevaces of a broken heart making it whole again. I've seen it over and over again.
But this woman's heart was broken anew. Her child has died. Without knowing the child I am still mourning her loss. "She loved me, she loved her dad, and we loved her. It all turned out to be so simple. We thought it would be more complex, more, I don't know, difficult I guess."
We talked for awhile longer, we laughed at stories about impish behaviour and little jokes. She was no longer crying. "It felt good to tell someone about her. My friends didn't want to talk about her when she was borne, no one wants to talk about her now she's died. I just don't want her forgotten."
I asked if I could write about our meeting on my blog the next day. She smiled and said, "Of course, as long as you mention her name."
I said I would.
Last night before bed, I prayed. Asking God to make sure that a little girl knows that her mother loves her, that her parents miss her. I believe the message got through.
I believe that Amanda knows, full well, that she was, and continues to be, deeply loved.