dinner

Isn’t Life Grand?

It was probably in the second month when we were in my clunky, blue car. I can’t remember where we were headed, but I was driving. Dylan was in the passenger seat and Mom sat in the back, folding her hunched shoulders over her knees. Her black rain coat covered her shrinking body and each time she sighed, the Gore-Tex material would crinkle along with her.

Waiting at the stop light at the intersection I glanced over my shoulder to look at her.

No tears in this moment, at least not yet.

“Claudia called today,” she mumbled.

“Oh yeah?” I responded, “What did she say?”

“Nothing much. There’s nothing to talk about with people. They keep asking me how it’s going and I just want to scream, ‘life sucks’. Nothing to talk about. Nothing to see.”

Her words were quick and full of bitterness. My muscles clenched.

“I get that,” I murmured.

The light turned green and we kept on going. Driving ourselves further into the muck of grief.

It gets worse before it gets better. And in our case, it got much, much worse.

Another three months later and she had a breakdown. In the king-sized bed with the plaid-checked comforter, where he used to lay next to her on vacation. Her tears would not stop. We brought in aunts and uncles and caring cousins and tried, half-heartedly to create a care plan.

Holistic practitioners scrawled solutions on pads of paper. Remedies of rest, tinctures and hemp oils to soothe a grieving heart. Nothing seemed to be working.

Brought in more medication. The western doctor said it best when he asked, “What helps the most?” and her answer, “red wine” got not a rebuff, but permission.

“Then drink a bit more of it” he said, “Right when you wake up.”

We hired a care-taker and continued to drive her around, always in the back seat, always in the rain coat. We’d stroke her hands and play soothing songs, tensing our aching hearts toward her when the songs prompted more tears, not less.

Sat in the dark. For months.

Watched the tears roll over and over down her cheeks. The drips of emotion puddling in worn jeans and wrinkles on her hands all the way down to her painted toes.

She knew she had to start moving those appendages. They were getting stiff.

Baby steps.

Two and a half years passed.

Some involving actual babies – a job at a daycare, a trip to Italy. Lots of therapy with said therapist.

Her black rain coat hangs in the closet now, above his hiking boots. It’s ready for the next storm, but no longer needed as a daily accessory.

She’s cooking again – real meals that taste good. Not just spaghetti with mush of tomatoes or toast with butter.  This time there’s lobster tails, and pasta with cream, and crunchy salads full of life.

Last night, we sat on the deck after dinner, and she relaxed back in her chair. Bending her torso back over the supportive seat, she ran her newly graying hair through her hands. She took a deep inhale – this one full of joy.

“Isn’t life grand?” she murmured.

The sauvignon blanc in her glass goblet glittered in the light, matching the twinkle in her eye. The one that returned.

 

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I wasn’t sure she would say such things again.

That life is grand.

Even without you.

That we are making it, and she is smiling, and we are no longer driving her around as she sits, waiting for something or someone, to move her out of the backseat.

 

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That Rickety Kitchen Table

I have a bruise. A really glamorous purply, blue bruise. It’s on my left wrist, and it’s just about the size of a softball. That makes sense, because its from playing on a rec softball league, and I stopped a ball at second base and it hit my hand instead of my glove. ” Trust the glove,” a friend said. Well I tried, but it still hit me in the hand. I’ve got some learning to do when it comes to softball. “Room for improvement,” they might say.

My bruise, however, is nothing compared to what my brother has got going on. This week he had an accident on his scooter, where he got cut off by a truck, and slid on some gravel and turned the thing over on its side. Luckily he escaped with just some scrapes and bruises. Some serious bruises. Boy are those colors beautiful – yellow to red to purple – there is a rainbow in there. That’s got to hurt when he lays on his side. We are all thankful that he wasn’t hurt more seriously, and that his injuries resulted in some pain, inconvenience, and time off from work to heal. We got lucky with this one.

What was more beautiful, in fact, was what came from his injury, and I am thankful for it. Because Sam got in an accident he was staying at home; my parents taking care of him. Dylan was with friends, so I asked to come over for a free meal. This week, for the first time in many, many years we had a family dinner with just me, my brother, my mom and my dad. Now we have quite frequently sat down to share a meal recently, but there was always a welcomed addition – a grandmother, a friend, a fiancé. On Friday night, for whatever reasons, it was just us original four. We all sat at our customary places from when we were growing up – I had my back to the big glass door, Sam sits across from me next to the counter. My parents hold strong at opposite ends of the creaky kitchen table with the chairs my dad built himself and we sit on itchy cushions my mom knit years ago. It wasn’t a fancy meal, and the conversation wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, but this ordinary moment felt incredibly beautiful to me.

 

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We’ve been through a lot over the past few years, and to be honest, being all together did not always feel good. It is hard to watch those you love suffer, and we’ve all been working on so much personal growth. At times, this growth pulls us in different directions, to perhaps separate corners of the house, or separate towns or school or work while we figure out who we are going to be as individuals in the world.

We used to make fun of my mom because while I was in college she used to get teary when we could all sit down together for dinner. This time, it was me. So much of family life happens around that square little table. It’s a routine I treasure, and I am so thankful my parents made an effort to gather us each night for a meal. Even if that meal was popcorn, and cheese, and apples on Sunday evenings (Grocery day was Monday don’t ya know). It is a tradition and a value I hope to instill with my own family some day. And as I continue to grow and change and prepare to leave my family in the traditional sense, and my brother starts out his own life on his own terms, and my parents embrace that term “empty nesters” I know that I can always return to sit at that table. New memories will be made, and maybe other additions brought in, but the power of the “original four” melts my heart. I’m thankful we keep fighting for each other, and that we keep returning to our spots at the table. I hope they continue to sit by me, and bless the food, and bless each other in ways we never could have imagined.