I just got back from my parents' Golden Wedding Anniversary. 50 years. When I was born, my mother, Millie, died. My dad, baby-me, my 5 year old brother (Danny) and my 6 year old sister (Mary), were hit by a loss that I can't quite fathom. For me it must have been easiest. I was the baby upon whom all the love must have been piled like heaps of gold. My brother at 5, kicked and bucked and didn't let go of his beloved mother. He must have found a shred of comfort because he told Mary and my Dad that maybe it was better for Mama because now she was with the angels. My sister Mary, at the age of 6, became our stand-in mom. She took on the job for life, and beyond, if necessary.
I remember that three years later my Dad and all of us had a wonderful new person in our lives - Barbara. The only other thing I remember is that they were walking down the aisle and Barbara waved at me and then I started calling her Mom. I didn't remember or know that she wasn't my actual birth Mom until I was 12 or 13, when they told me so.
Barbara took on three kids. After some time, she had two more - my brother Pat and my sister Gayle. And onward we carried. My Dad tells the story of how, when the kids were all leaving the nest, he told Mom that he wanted to adopt more kids. She didn't take the bait. Like my brother Pat pointed out at the Golden Celebration - she had already done that!
So amazing - these two lives. Barbara took on such a handful -- all 4 of us like a nest full of wounded birds!! And my dad was always, and is still, so full of love for us and for Millie and for Barbara and for God and for Mother Mary. He grew up as a farm boy turned electrical engineer. It seems a miracle that his natural heart of love and devotion managed not only to survive the years and the grief, but even to thrive and ripen and grow full of such an ocean of sweetness.
Fifty years. The "celebration" consisted of us "kids" (all of us way over 40) gathered around Mom and Dad at their home. Mom was adorned with catheter and just barely made it out of bed to her hospital chair. Dad was dressed up in his back-brace (which he wears to help with the strain of doing so many assists from bed to wheel chair to hospital recliner and back again). We were all so gentle with one another, patient with the wandering nature of the evening. It felt to me like a beautiful fabric was unraveling, loosening, growing threadbare. We made gentle attempts to knit it together. Nobody tried too hard. There was so much gentleness and sweetness.....so much allowing things to be as they are.
And there was so much love. It was almost too tender. My heart felt raw, open, tender way beyond comfort. My brother Dan was so sweet - wandering a little - he has always been wandering. Mary was - as always - full of acceptance and humor and laughter. Pat - as always - full of kindness and strength. And Gayle - as always - full of sparkling prickly, sweetness.
And then the hired care-taker, Melissa, arrived. She is a beautiful and tough young woman. She came while we were still there because our wandering Golden Anniversary party went on longer than we had planned. Melissa was there to put Mom to bed. I swear her arrival was no different than another sister arriving. She sat down with my mom and fed her cake.
I think that threadbare is not a tragedy at all.....it is just more open.
Before Melissa transferred Mom from hospital chair-to-wheelchair-to-bed, we lifted our plastic cups full of sparking cider to make our anniversary toasts. I had written out a translation of Psalm 1 and read it as my toast:
Blessed are the man and the woman
Who have grown beyond their greed
And have put and end to their hatred
And no longer nourish illusions,
But they delight in the way things are
And keep their hearts open, day and night.
They are like trees planted near flowing rivers,
Which bear fruit when they are ready.
Their leaves will not fall or wither.
Everything they've done becomes gold.