“We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself
the means of inspiration and survival.”
~ Winston Churchill
It’s Sunday afternoon, almost dinner time, and we have finally finished cleaning up from our family brunch. Tim and I are exhausted. The house is quiet, dishwasher humming. The boys are settling in with homework (homework seeming the lesser evil than laundry), the dogs are down for a nap (like overtired toddlers after an afternoon with grandma), the cats are contentedly crunching, and I’m curling up with a cup of tea and a book. I’m having a hard time concentrating, however, because tomorrow marks the seventh year since Sam’s suicide.
Our brunch included all eight of the boys’ grandparents: Sam’s parents, my parents, Tim’s parents and his first wife’s parents. Add our nuclear family of six, and that’s a lot of bagels. To be fair, two of our boys are away at college, but my sister and brother-in-law volunteered to bring strawberries to our grandparent gathering, and I certainly wasn’t going to decline their offer.
We don’t have a table big enough for everybody to sit comfortably, but we do have nice weather and patio furniture and the kind of family who is willing to scooch up a chair, eat in his own lap, risk spilling on her neighbor’s lap and laugh out loud. We share stories, coffee and the better part of the day. The logistics are rarely simple in our family gatherings, but I am grateful. My house and my heart are full. So is the dishwasher.
On her way out, Sam’s mother pulls me aside. Although she speaks more comfortably in Spanish, she addresses me in English, as a courtesy. She tells me that she is so proud of all four of my sons, and (like the self-respecting jewish mother-in-law that she is) she also frets over each one of them. She is going to go to the cemetery tomorrow, and she is going to tell “Sammy” how well his sons are doing and that his wife has created a beautiful little family. She tells me that she knows Sammy will be happy and very proud.
And I know he will be. And while Sam’s approval is gratifying, it is his mother’s approval that moves me to tears. I have a friend who refers to her daughter-in-law as her daughter-in-love. My mother-in-law has similarly treated me as her own. Years ago, as she was walking with me on one side and her own daughter on the other, she laughed and said “I have two daughters — one blonde and one brunette.”
She shuffles toward her car with her cane in her left hand and my arm in the right. She explains to me that she does her physical therapy exercises consistently, and I know this to be true. In fact, she even turns on music and “dances” her exercises across the length of her apartment. She’s in her 80’s. My father-in-law shakes his head and smiles. He has been smitten with her for nearly 60 years, and it’s easy to see why.
I cannot imagine what she has suffered in the loss of her son. And yet, she makes it a practice to dance across her living room every day. It is very hard to understand how her son lost his way, but I believe with all my heart that he is, indeed, proud not only of his wife and children but also of his mother. It is no coincidence that, despite the heartbreak and challenges that life has brought, her children and grandchildren find their way with joy and tenacity.
She dances every single day.
Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And inspiration.