Some essays and remembrances are more to difficult to begin. Before the words can touch the page the thoughts and feelings in response to these life events must first be felt, then understood, and finally allowed to flow from one emotion to another, memories skipping time, moving from past to present and back again to another day, another reminiscence, some joyful, some sad, some full of gratitude, a few regrets, what ifs and why nots, mourning, tears and grief, and celebration, lots of celebration.
Hello and Goodbye
This has been a week of hellos and goodbyes, beginning with a family reunion and ending in the deaths of a beloved entertainer, the tragic killing of another young black man, and the unexpected passing of an admired work colleague. In between there was a celebration, my parents’ 65th wedding anniversary.
A Family Reunion
During the past year I have spent some time renewing my relationship with my ex-husband Frank. We’re not exactly reconciling, though we are making peace with the past, mostly we are celebrating our shared memories and enduring love for each other. As often is the case, when two people form a bond and create a relationship it extends to their families. This has certainly been true for us. Frank has maintained a connection to my parents over the years, sending greeting cards with updates and messages of love and affection. For the most part, I have been estranged from his family. All that changed this past weekend.
I travelled to my hometown of Racine, Wisconsin. First, I stopped to visit with my parents, Dick and Ethel and then I was off to the Schatzley-Pfeiffer-Drier family reunion. Ex-husband Frank was there to greet me as he introduced me to two new generations of family, the sons and daughters and granddaughters and grandsons of the family I had once shared with Frank.
I hugged and kissed members of his family I had not seen for over 30 years. First I was struck by how much we all changed over time, and then I was reminded by how we remained the same, and though we had not seen each other for years, those connections and bonds formed years earlier remained. We were still family.
In between catching up with each other, we’d return to the past, retelling favorite shared memories, rebooting family myths and reigniting long-unsettled friendly arguments.
Little kids walked up to me and asked, “Who are you?” with that natural, child-like curiosity. “I used to be married to your great-uncle Frank.” I’d wait for a second to see their reaction, and it was always the same, an expression of complete acceptance, followed by a hello and a smile. Though much had happened during the past 30 years, including the deaths of loved ones, health crisis, and divorces, there were also marriages, births and new beginnings. Cycles of life, cycles of love, reunion.
A Celebration of 65 Years Together
Saturday evening and Sunday, I celebrated with Mom and Dad. Earlier in the week marked their 65th wedding anniversary. They were teenagers when they married, Dad, 19, Mom, 17. Shortly after they were married —and I do mean shortly — I was born.
For me, my parents are the longest relationships in my life. We grew up together and like most families shared both the good times and the bad. I used to tell some of my friends in recovery that I grew up in a dysfunctional family. I no longer characterize it that way. By its very nature, all families are both functional and dysfunctional.
I’m very grateful I grew up in mine. I’m also very grateful that at the age of 64, both of my parents are still living. Each day is a precious gift.
We spent the weekend sharing stories from the past. I asked a lot of questions of how they met and asked them to describe their early years together raising our family. This is not the first time we’ve had these conversations. I recorded their oral history a couple of years ago. Like most families, the retelling of stories, our oral histories, reinforce the bonds of family. Mom and Dad also talked about what their lives are like today. Mom struggles with health issues and Dad has become her nurse and caretaker. He has learned to do things he never did years earlier, helping Mom cook, do laundry and much more. With all the challenges they face, they are happy together today and are most grateful for their family and each other.
Later on Sunday, Frank joined us for an anniversary dinner celebration. Like years before, when we were all much younger, the four of us went out to dinner. Though our skin is now wrinkled, and we’ve added many pounds to our bodies, Mom walks with a cane, and it’s a major production belting my parents in the car like children, we remained young and full of love for each other as we reminisced and told stories from the past. For Mom and Dad more than 65 years shared together, my parents and me, 64, and Frank, my folks and I, 45 years.
The week ended with the untimely death of entertainer, comic, and actor, Robin Williams by his own hand. As the story unfolded and we experienced a roller coaster of emotions, we learned that besides his history of addiction (and recovery) and severe depression, Williams had recently been given the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. In the end, this brilliant star who shined so brightly seemingly could no longer face the darkness that lie ahead of him. We grieve his loss.
A firestorm of protest erupted in Ferguson, Missouri following the killing of Michael Brown, a young black man by a police officer, Darren Wilson. It’s too soon to know the truth and facts behind the story, yet Brown represents thousands of young black men who lose their life at an early age by guns and violence, sometimes by those who are supposed to protect and serve. It’s a tragedy for all involved. We grieve his loss.
Lastly, on Tuesday, a colleague, who worked at our company for 30 years, died unexpectedly from a heart attack while making dinner for his wife and daughter, the same daughter he was supposed to walk down the aisle for her wedding in two weeks. My friend and colleague, who I respected and admired, was a mentor and leader to many. He had planned on retiring in January. It was a reminder for those who knew and loved him, how precious life is, and that we must live each day to its fullest. Each day is a gift. Each life is a gift. We grieve his loss.
To read more about families, the stories we tell, and the ties that bind: