It's the middle of the night. I can't sleep. Usually when I have nights like this I move to the couch and read and then doze. Tonight I know that won't work. Actually it's very early morning of a day that will look like any other day. In a couple of hours I'll start the routine of a work day, and except that I may look a bit more tired than usual, nothing will appear out of the ordinary.
That's what's so strange about this particular anniversary. There is no formal marking of the day. No ceremony for this. Last year I didn't even remember the day until a couple of days after it passed. I remember thinking that felt like a victory of sorts, a healing, a moving on.
At the wedding on Saturday, probably because of the whole feeling of family, a bud of memory began to push through the membrane of my consciousness. Kathleen was more on my mind than usual, and on Sunday walking with Toby in crisp sunshine, I took the time to wonder why. And focused on the date. And counted forward 14, 15, 16, 17 - Wednesday.
Four years ago today, my forty year old daughter decided living was too hard. Her adoptive mother called me to tell me. I went to my family Christmas as though only a small bump had occurred, only realizing much later that I was in shock. The grieving held off just long enough for the new year to arrive and then moved in to the space in my heart that had been Kathleen's since I was eighteen and signed her over to people I hoped could provide her with so much more than I might.
When we met, she was 24 and I was 42. She was beautiful and sweet and funny. She was full of love and life. She loved to cook and give gifts and shop. She loved cats. She loved her kids. And beyond all possibility or expectation, she loved me. She was also mentally ill, a reality which took some time for me to grasp because she worked so hard at hiding it.
Our reunion went from romantic to rocky in less than a year. But there was always some contact, and that contact always included a sharing of love. She always called me mom. I always called her my daughter, even as I doubted my right to claim either declaration. While I was often sad and frustrated and afraid, there was always hope. I was grateful to have whatever part of her I could have in my life. I believed in the possibility of healing.
I think about her mom and her husband and her kids this morning, and wish for a world where we might share this grief. I don't wish for the grief to be gone. Because what then would fill the Kathleen shaped space in my heart? I don't mind the sadness. I know I can live with it. I know how much light really does shine through the cracks of a broken heart, both ways. I wish, oh how I wish, I could have given her that wisdom.
Because I really do understand I had no power to save her - if she couldn't stay for her kids, she wasn't going to stay for me - it's easier to just miss her. And so I do. With love.
Sunday, December 14, 2014
Forty people were tucked into the cozy living room of my friend's house on a Saturday afternoon. Walt and I stood in the back, waiting along with everyone else, our focus on the steps leading into the kitchen. The room was warm, both with all the bodies and with all the years of family love embedded in every surface. The homeyness of her antiques and plants and quilts was brightened further by the reds and greens of Christmas. I've always admired this house constructed and filled and lived in by people with deep vision and total commitment to creating home. I love this friend and the family she and her husband built from a powerful sense of purpose.
Scanning the people around me, most of whom I didn't know, I marveled at how perfect the moment felt. This gathering of strangers to celebrate a coming together of lives in a formal ceremony. My friend's adult daughter sat at the piano and played music that might have brought tears to the eyes of angels. The younger daughter sat just in front of us, on the cusp of adulthood herself, and I wondered if she was imagining her own future wedding as I might have done in her shoes.
My friend's adult son came to stand at the top step with his great friend, who would officiate, where they both waited for the bride to arrive from upstairs.
While I don't know the son well, his mom and I have been friends for almost twenty years now. So I know him in the same way friends know everything that matters about each other. His path has been a rocky and rutted one. There were times when it seemed he followed no path at all and was in danger of careering off a precipice into a place of no return. I relate. Maybe we all do in some way.
He's no longer young, but there was a peace and quiet joy about him as he waited to marry a woman he's already created a good life with. He smiled fondly at his almost-teenaged daughter and her friend as they came forward giggling and tossing petals. The daughter stood at his side. His face lit up like Christmas morning at the sight of his bride wearing spring green and looking so much like new life.
The ceremony was light and filled with laughter. Joy radiated from the steps. My friend's son asked his daughter at the beginning if she gave her approval. She did. She helped push the ring onto the bride's hand. At one point she wrapped the bride in a fierce hug and thanked her for becoming her mom. The bride cried, as did every other person in the room.
The pronouncement came very quickly, followed by the kiss and the introduction of the couple as Mr. and Mrs. They stood for a moment absorbing the applause and the love and perfect moment of fresh start. That point in time from which every new thing would be seasoned by the fact that they were now officially married. Afterwards were pictures and visiting over tables of food. Toasting with sparkling cider. The cutting of the cake. More pictures. So much tradition. So much love. So much hope.
We left the party feeling a satisfied sense of witness and possibility. Grateful to have been included. Cleansed, at least for the moment, of the weight of a too-busy life and the clutter of the urgent masquerading as the important.
I don't know what the future holds for this new family. I know it won't all be easy and that the joy of their wedding day will be strained to the point of breaking in ways they can't even imagine yet. But I do know that somehow there is power in the gathering of loving witnesses, the speaking of vows, the declaring of family. I hope, I choose to believe, that power will be enough to sustain them and weld them and mold them into lives that fulfill the promise born on the day of their wedding ceremony.