Monday, December 26, 2016

happy meal

The rounds of Christmas holiday parties left me satiated with food, and by nightfall all I really needed was a coffee fix.  My usual hangouts were closed, so I threw on my comfortable sweatshirt and sauntered down to the local Mc Donald’s. The place was pretty empty, just a family with several adult children gathered around a large table and myself.

Through the door came a young boy of maybe seven years old with his parents. He had bright blue eyes and hair so blonde it was nearly white. He was wearing a navy blue dress suit- probably his first, with brown sneakers. He walked up to the counter and ordered a Happy Meal while his parents watched. While waiting for his order, his Mom disappeared into to the ladies’ room and his Dad took him aside and told him, “I just want you to know that you were really good today and I’m very proud of you.” The little boy broke into a wide smile, picked up his Happy Meal at the counter and the three of them scampered out the door. I’m betting he’ll remember this Christmas for a very long time.

I’m still sipping my coffee as the family at the big table start to head for the exit. The father, who is probably in his late 60s struggled with the zipper on his winter coat. One of his daughters, a pretty young woman with flowing black hair, knelt down in front of him and very lovingly zipped up his jacket. No doubt he did the same thing for her hundreds of times over the years, but tonight the roles were reversed.

I tossed out my coffee cup and walked out to the car, smiling.

My Christmas gifts came late in the day.

Monday, July 11, 2016

a thousand julys

Ten years today.

A decade. Both a moment and an eternity.

No tears this year, just memories. The shock has dissipated and we have, collectively, pretty much dealt with things. Life is resilient, whether we expect it to be or not.

When you lose someone, there is a terrible shock.

But at least you are spared the anticipation and dread which becomes part of the anniversary.

Everyone says the first year is the hardest- it's a year full of firsts without him. Birthdays, holidays, important days to be gotten through somehow. We all got together on the first anniversary, I wrote about at the time as one year later. We knew we would all be thinking of him, so we had a bowling party in his memory. It was very theraputic all in all.

I must admit the burden eased that day, the fact that we all survived a year together without him made it easier somehow. And I was very fortunate- I unknowingly got the chance to say goodbye. You can read about it here.

But he's never very far away from me. As his childhood friend Betty reflected, our summer will always have a thousand Julys.

For Betty, and for John, whom we miss today and always

Thursday, June 9, 2016

time to go

For Brian- on the 40th Anniversary of his loss:

Aunt Joanne and Uncle David had it all- a successful business, three beautiful children, and a garage full of old Buicks that I loved riding in. They were among my favorite relatives to visit, and we did so often.

Their perfect world was shattered in the summer of 1976 when three year old Brian, whom each thought the other was watching, fell head first into their swimming pool and drowned. They pulled him out quickly, and David tried desperately to perform CPR, but it was too late. Their happy-go-lucky little boy was gone.

Their grief was both overwhelming and debilitating. My own parents were in Montreal when the call came. They dropped everything and raced home to Flint in the big Buick Electra. Dad, who was not a speeder, learned new talents as he desperately tried to get home to his anguished brother. Mom said it felt like the Electra's tires never touched the highway that trip- they were all but airborne. Once home, Dad helped Uncle David with the heartbreaking task of arrangements, and Mother glued herself to Joanne's side.

Joanne kept her composure through the visitation and funeral with Mother never out of her sight. Mom was afraid that she would simply pass out from the grief, but somehow she made it through. Finally the graveside service was over and people began returning to their cars. Except Joanne. She was unable to leave her little boy's side, and just sat there in silence. Every time Mother tried to lead her away, Joanne refused. Finally Mother took her hand and said "Joanne, it's time to go". Joanne resisted but Mother was firm. "You have two children at home that need you. It's time to go". She led her to the waiting car.

The birth of another son the following year put Joanne on the road back to life, but the collective anguish and guilt of the tragedy soon spelled the end of David and Joanne's marriage. I saw her infrequently after that, and usually only at a major family event, but we retained the warm bond we always had. Years went by.

When Mother passed away in 2007, Joanne was working out of town and wasn't able to make it to the funeral. It was a lovely and touching service, and after the mourners had filed out, it was just my brother, Dad, and I. Then it was Dad and I, and finally just myself. Looking at her, touching the lapel of her pink suit, recounting stories of how crazy and full of life and how utterly irreplaceable she was. And I stood there, unable to leave her. It was the last time I would ever see her, and I simply could not bring myself to part with her.

Then the door opened, and in walked Joanne. She had sped up from Detroit and missed the service, but wanted to pay her respects. She gave me an gigantic hug and we talked about her. We looked at the display boards of photos and she talked about what enormous strength Mother had given her when Brian died. She had come up to thank her for that time. We stood silently for a few minutes, and then Joanne took my hand and softly said, "It's time to go". I knew exactly what she was doing. Hand in hand, we walked outside into the setting sun.