For most of my life, I watched my Mother struggle. She worked so hard. My Dad was an alcoholic.
It's so easy sum people up in a series of letters, words, sentences...but those words hardly touch the surface. My parents were children when they married. My Dad's Dad was a tough man. My Dad was in the Navy during a war. He used to say a couple of words in Japanese but he never really talked about what he saw or had to do. I'm sure my parents loved each other once, in a kind and gentle way, but I never saw that part of their relationship.
My little sister passed away when I was almost five, she was almost two. I know my parents' hearts were broken, I know now, what I could barely understand when I was almost five.
I saw my Dad once, sitting on my little wooden rocking chair, leaning over the open hope chest that held all of my sister's tiny clothes. He was weeping and I quietly watched without him knowing I was there.
When he drank, my Dad was mean. I think I only saw him sober twice but deep inside I knew he wasn't only mean. My Mom was always trying to put food on the table, a roof over our heads. She worked nights so that she would be home to get us off to school and be there when we got off the bus. I know now that she had sad bones. I have sad bones. It's something that we carry silently. It doesn't make us weak or a liability, it simply is what happens when you lose someone you love more than life... and those sad bones are strong, they surround and protect a tender heart that although broken, has the capacity to hold an enormous amount of love...a heart that feels deeply and becomes life rather than merely pumping life.
Melinda returned to Heaven 51 years ago, my Dad, 23 and Shannon, an unbelievable 11 years ago. They are always with us.
Since I retired I've been spending Fridays with my Mom. We don't do anything special. We have lunch and shop and talk. This past Friday, after lunch and picking up some white plastic lattice at Lowe's and then of course, a cherry pie and coffee at McDonald's, we were driving home. The sky was blue, the sun was bright and my Mom said, quite out of the blue, "I love my life."
I didn't tell her, but knowing that, makes my own heart full.
When Shannon was little she used to play cards with my Dad and they would share a bag of orange slice candies. She loved him. Animals loved him too. I know they saw that part of him that had been wounded, that boy that sailed off to war, and never returned. I often think that my Dad, because of his own broken heart, and because I never felt his love or strength, actually gave me the strength to hold on to life after Shannon returned to Heaven... and now they can play cards with Melinda and eat orange slices and they can watch me and know that they fill my heart.
Some days I'm sad. This time of year, as the trees are budding and the flowers are finding their way to the light, is Shannon's. Her birthday is April 5, Melinda's is April 25, and then Shannon's Heaven Day on May 1. I'm not sad in the way I once was. It has mellowed, softened... and my love for her looms larger than my longing. I don't want those around me to worry or share the sad moments, but I do want them to let moments last longer. I want us all to find a way to be still... to breathe and feel and know that each moment is a gift that will never be repeated. I heard someone say that we can never step into the same river twice because every moment the river changes, just like life.
Like my Mom, I love my life. Shannon left me in good hands. I have so many incredible people in my life who, even though most of them probably don't realize it, hold me steady and make me smile.
I suppose that's the most precious secret of all. Love is, now and for always, and with that thought I'm going to go into my garden and rake away the remnants of winter. You will be with me...all of you.