Imaginary Friends

Nov 9, 2009

When I was little, I had an imaginary friend. His name was John. I would insist my parents set a place for him at dinner and make room for him in the backseat of the car. He was my buddy and we did everything together. My mom, perhaps slightly worried that I was becoming delusional, would always say to me, “Now, Kelly, you do know that John is only imaginary, right?” I would tell her, “Yes. His name is John the Imagine.”

I don’t know how long it was that John the Imagine hung around. My parents don’t recall the last time he joined us for dinner or went on a family outing. It just seemed that, suddenly, one day he was gone. I guess I had grown up. I liked to think that, as with the dragon, Elliot, in the movie Pete’s Dragon, he’d found another small child who needed him more.

I recognize that many, if not most, children have imaginary friends. I understand that this is normal. In fact, I have a Masters Degree in Educational Counseling and, in at least one of my classes, we studied how and why children create these special friends.

So, it was no surprise to me that when my daughter Jordan was about 2 years old, she, too, brought home a friend whom the rest of us could not see. What was surprising, though, was that Jordan was not talking about some strange child we had never met. No. Jordan’s friend was my grandmother – my deceased grandmother.

Yes, you read that correctly. Her imaginary friend was my deceased maternal grandmother, whom I had always called “Mimi.”

Maybe I should backtrack a little. When I was growing up, Mimi was an enormous part of my life. She attended every birthday party, school play, church musical and awards ceremony that I ever had. She was always at our house, or us at hers. I loved no one more than Mimi and very few people just as much. That was why, when I got my driver’s license at the age of 17, she was the first person I took for a ride in my car. That was why I talked to her regularly on the phone, even after I married and moved across the country. And, that was why I was just devastated when she unexpectedly passed away in the year 2000.

Perhaps it was, in part, her death that led me to even want to have children. Before that, I had been teaching high school and, quite honestly, I really couldn’t see why anyone would want to have kids (I should save that, though, for a whole other post). When Mimi died, however, something inside me changed. Maybe it was the thought of how life still needs to go on. Maybe it was a way for me to pass on a little bit of Mimi to someone else. Whatever the reason, I began to think about having a child of my own and our daughter, Jordan, was born two years later.

I admit, when Jordan arrived, I did wonder about Mimi. I used to tell my mom that I wondered if Mimi knew Jordan, before she was born. I liked to think my grandmother had loved her from heaven, kissed her, and then somehow sent her on to us. Maybe the idea of that sounds silly, but it was that thought which always made me smile.

Still, at that point in Jordan’s life, we didn’t talk about Mimi much to her – nor even very often around her. I mean, she was only two. I had probably told her, at some point, that I’d had a grandmother, just like she had, and that I’d called mine “Mimi.” I’m certain, though, that was the extent of our conversations regarding Mimi.

Yet, somewhere around the age of two, Jordan began to talk about Mimi. And, she always referred to her as “My Mimi.” Sometimes it would just be things like, “My Mimi took me to the park and we went on the swings.” Or, she might say, “My Mimi’s favorite color is blue.” (Which, actually, was true.)

She’d tell us about the food and pies “My Mimi” would prepare for her and the places they’d go together. Whenever I was with my mom, and Jordan would talk this way, we would just look at each other, over her head. What was this about? Didn’t this seem a little odd? Should we let this go on? Did we need to say something to her?

But, ultimately, what was there to say? She loved Mimi and thus, “My Mimi” became a regular part of our everyday life.

Now, I must admit that though I cognitively knew this was just my daughter’s imaginary friend – whom she happened to name after my grandmother – it also, at times, made me wonder.

Could Jordan see things we couldn’t? Did a part of her really remember meeting my grandmother before she was born? I know. It sounds nuts. Even as I type those words, I think that those of you who read this will think I’ve been watching too many episodes of Ghost Whisperer. And yet . . . it was just so odd.

There would be nights when I’d find Jordan in her bed, sobbing her little eyes out. I’d sit on her bed and ask her what was wrong and she’d cry, “I just miss My Mimi so much.”

One time, when Jordan didn’t know my mom was watching, my mom saw Jordan go up to a photo of Mimi, which my mom had on her dresser, pick it up and kiss Mimi’s face. We weren’t even sure we’d ever told Jordan that photo was of Mimi. Perhaps we had, but if so, it hadn’t been recently.

Unfortunately, Jordan’s “friend” also made for some awkward conversations. Jordan would regularly talk about Mimi, to everyone she knew. So much so that people would ask me about her. “Is that Jordan’s grandma?” they’d say.

“No,” I’d have to tell them, “It’s my grandmother."

“Oh, does she live in Texas, too?” they’d ask.

“No, she’s dead,”

Silence. Silence. Silence.

Yep. There’s nothing like that to halt a conversation.

My Mimi was a part of our life for years. We came to love hearing Jordan talk about her and the adventures the two of them had together. We all knew that Mimi was gone, but somehow, having this little girl tell us all about her made us feel like she was still there with us.

My mom used to say, “One day, she’ll stop talking about Mimi. We won’t even know that it will be the last time she mentions her, until a few weeks later, when we realize she’s gone.” And that’s exactly what happened. Suddenly, one day, we realized that we hadn’t heard about “My Mimi” in quite awhile – and Jordan never spoke of her again.

Not hearing about Mimi from Jordan, of course, did not stop us from thinking about her and still missing her. Just last week, as I was driving home from picking up the boys from school, I suddenly had a fond memory of Mimi. She used to love watching Wheel of Fortune. Every night, even if she was at our house, everything would stop at 7 PM so that she could sit on the couch and watch her “program,” as she called it. The memory made me smile as I pulled into our driveway.

Later that evening, as I was preparing dinner, I told Jordan she could turn on the TV. My husband works late 2 nights a week and on those evenings, I allow the kids to watch TV while we eat. Generally, Jordan picks her favorite channel – The Food Network. On this particular night, though, when Jordan clicked on the television, Wheel of Fortune popped up.

“Oh! I love this show!” Jordan exclaimed.

“You do?” I asked. When had she ever seen it? I wondered.

“Yes! They put up words and you have to guess the letters,” she said, as she sat down on the couch, eyes glued to the screen.

Hmmm . . . I thought. Perhaps it was just an odd coincidence that I had just been thinking about Mimi and this show and then, suddenly, Jordan turns it on and is mesmerized by it.

I, however, chose to think that maybe, just maybe, this was Mimi – telling me that she was still with me – still loving me– still in my heart.

Still, my Mimi.


Julie Pippert said...

Lovely, how lovely. And I'd wonder too. I always talked about Sally as a small child. I still remember how it felt inside to think of Sally, who was more like someone I knew so familiarly and wanted to remember but found elusive. Not really an imaginary friend, more an imaginary person I once knew and would bring into conversation, lol. Then my younger daughter began doing the same thing, about Sally, same name and everything. I'd never told her about it, but I have now and she's got a mom who understands.

B said...

I had a similar thing with my son. I will never forget when he saw a picture of my grandmother and said "that's Nanny, she lives in the sky". Chills ran through me, he was too little to know who Nanny was (she died before I got married).

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