Sunday, January 27, 2013

Recognizing silver linings, and being thankful for them

It's no secret that my greatest regret in life is that my kids grew up as children of divorce, and that I've spent years trying to make sense of the mistakes that were made. I realized a few years ago, though, that it's impossible to go back in time and make everything right for my kids, and that the best possible strategy is to keep the lines of communication open and validate their feelings about the events that transpired.

But of the handful of good things that came out of my divorce, one of them came to light this week.  My children, ages 24 and 21, have become roommates.  Voluntarily.  And to say that's gratifying doesn't scratch the surface.

My son and daughter have always been close. During those dark nights when the arguments between their parents became more than they could bear, Scott was Caroline's protector, playing games with her to drown out the yelling.  Through years of difficulty -- a horrible relationship on my end, their dad's remarriage, my cancer, and my eventual remarriage (not to the horrible-relationship guy, thankfully) -- my kids held on to each other. They were one another's constants during change.

I don't think they've ever argued.  Ever.  They are very different from one another, but they admire one another's strengths. Each one has a total, unshakable pride in his or her sibling.  Their relationship is a wonderful thing to witness.

I chalk up their love for each other to their being forced to cling to one another during some pretty bad times, but I also attribute it to these things: a mother and father who, despite their own difficulties, never managed to lose sight of the fact that we were parents first. The kids were cared for and loved. And our extended families stepped in to help, maintaining positive relationships with the "opposite" former spouse and his or her family.

It took a village.  Luckily, we had one.

In the past couple of weeks, events conspired to enable my kids to see that living together would be a fine idea. They have roommates and dogs, but the two of them are at the heart of the household they're building. They're a perfect yin and yang; one is much more laid back, and the other a bit more tightly wound. But they're viewing their different approaches to life as opportunities to stretch their comfort zones.

I worry less now that they're together. I know each has the other's back, and that nothing unfortunate is likely to happen to one as long as the other is keeping watch.

And on nights like tonight, when I'm making dinner for them, it's a whole lot easier to make one pot of chili and visit them both in the same place.

If I could go back in time, I'd take away the pain for them. I can't do that, obviously, but I can feel a tremendous sense of pride that my kids are made of the elements they're made of, and that they've seen that beautiful things can come from terrible times. That knowledge -- and the joy they find in being together -- will serve them well indeed.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Sometimes the pain is too deep, and you just have to go home.

Elvis, Rob and Kevin, 2010
You go to bed on Saturday night and think the next day is going to be a lazy Sunday. And then everything changes, and the world on Sunday night is forever altered for someone you love.

When my husband, Kevin, moved from his hometown in Illinois years ago, he left behind his two best friends, Elvis and Rob.  The three of them would never live in the same city again, but their bonds would never be broken; whenever Kevin would return to Rochelle for a visit, time with Elvis and Rob was usually on his schedule.  He and Rob were best men in one another’s weddings; any story he told about the old days was punctuated with “and then Robbie said…” or “…and then Robbie and I (insert something potentially illegal here).”

And every story is punctuated by laughter. A lot of laughter.

Rob married and had a family and became a policeman, then Rochelle's police chief. He was well-known and well-loved, and Kevin was proud of him. But he also would have been proud of him if he’d sold insurance or worked at a dime store or dug ditches. 

He'll never get the chance to tell Rob again that he's proud of him, though. Kevin woke to the news yesterday, via Elvis, that Rob had died.  He had been ill with a usually minor illness, maybe the flu, and he had gone to bed and hadn’t woken up.

To watch one’s spouse hurt to this degree is something I’ve never experienced.  When Kevin’s dad died, Kevin was devastated – but that death was anticipated.  That didn’t make it easier, but it had given Kevin time to prepare somewhat. This, though, was not only sudden and wholly unexpected, but wrenching on a formative level.

So much of Kevin is tied to Rob. Rob was Kevin’s touchstone to his childhood – they became friends in third grade – and also to his teenage years. First dates, first kisses, first money-making scheme (driving across the border to Wisconsin, where the drinking age was 18, and buying beer to bring home and sell to Illinois kids at three times the retail price).

Rob was there for Kevin’s first marriage and the birth of his first child, and he was there when the marriage fell apart.  He was a constant, and he was always supposed to be there – especially for the wife and three children he leaves behind, but also for the friends his life helped to shape.

Kevin didn't talk with Rob every day, but I guarantee he thought of him. Actually, in all our years of marriage, I don't think we've gone more than a couple of days during which Kevin hasn't mentioned Rob. As anyone else who's reached a certain age knows, as the years fly by, the past comes into sharper focus. For Kevin, Rob has always been in the middle of that virtual viewfinder.

Men absolutely can love one another.  Kevin really, truly loved Rob.

When you marry someone in middle age, someone with whom you don't share an early history, it's difficult to know how to help when something of this magnitude happens. I can’t help ease Kevin's pain, but I can listen. And most importantly, as I'll do tonight, I can pack him up and send him back where he came from, to say goodbye to Rob with the others who knew him -- and loved him -- best.