Twenty-eight years. It took twenty-eight unfathomably long years.
Debbie married someone who grew up here, and I grew up with her and her brothers. She stayed in Maryland while my husband and I moved to her husband’s hometown when we were at the baby-and-toddlers stage of parenthood.
So from time to time I would be back visiting my folks (before they moved away in retirement) and from time to time she would be visiting her in-laws.
But every single time she came to town, I would be out of town. Or sick, memorably, pneumonia one time and I forget what the other times. And every single time I was back home, she was out of town. Again and again and again.
As her in-laws’ health slowly failed in old age, their kids would come to visit, and one time I looked at this guy in church who was the spitting image of Curt and went, You’re…and he, knowing my parents’ daughter was in his growing-up ward, went, You’re…? Yes. And so I shared with him what I’d written when her brother my age had died and he passed it gratefully along to Debbie and all her family.
His eighty-nine-year-old father passed away last week. With all of his children in town and one of them by his side in the middle of the night comforting him as he slipped away at home. We should all be so lucky.
The funeral was today, and the children were admiring, sober, funny, thoughtful, with a tear or three. Debbie’s husband recounted several of them going on a bike ride with their Dad setting the pace; he finally had had to say, Dad, we need a break a moment, would you mind slowing down a bit?
And then he asked, And guess how old Dad was then? Seventy-seven. He rode 250 miles a week. If the mountain went straight up he rode straight up, none of this zigzagging slowly because it’s too hard. Here to San Francisco and back, all the time.
The children addressed their mother directly with great love as she sat quietly in her wheelchair watching the proceedings. Her hair was perfect and her dress was beautiful. One child after another thanked each of their parents’ caregivers by name. It is hard to be a long-distance child in such circumstances and those good people had loved their folks and had made it possible for them to stay in their home as they’d tended to them.
Their mother’s Alzheimer’s had taken any semblance of recognition away from her long ago and yet they addressed her as if she were wholly here, knowing that someday she would be able to look back on her life and hear and know every word. This was for her. This was for them all. This was for all of us.
At the end, as people filed outside, I found myself gradually making my way towards that wheelchair, carefully, not wanting to get in the family’s way.
Debbie was tending to her mother-in-law. I waited.
She saw me and as my face lit up, waiting, waiting, she looked like doIknowOH IT’S YOU!!!! We threw our arms around each other, then held each other at arm’s length, taking each other in.
And in that moment I knew that over all those years and all those frustrating, missed opportunities, it wasn’t just me, she had wanted to connect like that, too. And finally, finally, there we were.
How ARE you?!!
I was sure I had seen familiar backs of the heads at the front of the chapel and so I had. The crowd parted enough right on cue then for me to see: her parents had come from Maryland, too, and she turned to them. Her mother had the same moment of wait, do I–OH!!! (Hugs!) And in excitement she turned to her husband to share the joy.
He wasn’t quite getting it. To be fair, I might well have been a teenager the last time he’d seen me. He wasn’t quite hearing the name in the noise or putting it together or knowing that face but I gave him a quick hug anyway and I knew they would fill him in later. I can just hear it: Wait, that was Lawrence and Frances’s daughter?!
His wife asked after me, after my parents; yes, they’re in good health, yes, Mom still walks a few miles every day, they’re doing great!
Someone from home. For the three of them and for me. Love, stretching all the way back to my birth and Debbie’s (and my father-in-law grew up with her dad!) and all our parents as newlyweds and young parents. All those memories suddenly come together in one chapel far away in California.
I miss Curt and I am sorry for his family’s loss. I do know that after all the hospice care, it’s a relief, too; they know their dad, grampa, and great-grampa is free to look down on them now with all earthly sorrows fallen away.
But what a deep sense of joy. So much love. It was always there. Loss let it be seen.
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