September 25th was Mallory’s birthday. Mallory is Andy’s daughter and Lee’s youngest great niece. Mallory’s brother, Tobey, is a year older.
I sent her timely birthday wishes thanks to a special occasions list that Lee created, which I first came across after she passed. These days I try to keep up with birthdays, anniversaries and the like, which are contained on this list, and if I fail to have it on hand as a prompt, it is possible to overlook many happy occasions, for example, Mallory’s recent birthday. Fortunately, I did not forget.
I used to dutifully accompany Lee to Andy’s house in the suburbs to attend all of the kid parties. There, I’d heartily partake of several different types of thin pizza from grease stained cardboard boxes on display, side-by-side, on a long folding table. I always found room for a large piece of sugary birthday cake slathered with thick frosting and a generous scoop of chocolate ice cream. At last sated, I would try to work off my food guilt by playing with the frenetic young revelers to near collapse. Eventually, I’d join in the bland conversations of the anonymous moms and dads of the friends and classmates of the birthday celebrant, the adult siblings of Andy’s wife and their respective mates. I’d chat amicably with both sets of grandparents, as well as Andy’s brother, Joe, and his wife, Katie, if they happened to be in town for the occasion with their own young children. Every one of these parties had a sameness.
In the immediate aftermath of Lee’s passing, Andy continued to extend party invitations to me, but with a generous opt out clause because he thought that I might be too grief stricken to attend. Surprisingly, I was only too happy to attend. At the time I did not need a good excuse to escape my empty home.
Last year, I could not attend Tobey’s party because the boy’s birthday fell while I was out of town with Robyn. However, I was there to attend Mallory’s party.
And this year? I was not invited to either kid’s birthday celebration. I can’t recall now whether I even remembered Tobey’s birthday when it rolled around this past July. I have no independent recollection of sending him a birthday card with money inside of it. As for Mallory’s birthday, on September 30th I got a short text from Andy, thanking me for “the lovely card,” while assuring me that “Mal loved it.” I’m sure that’s exactly what she must have said.
In past posts I have mentioned how, in the aftermath of Lee’s death, I have lost touch with several of our former friends. In each instance, the “friend” was someone with whom Lee either had worked or socialized. Such postmortem fallout was not shocking since, in a manner of speaking, I had only been a friend by association in the first instance. Losing friends because your spouse has died seems akin to the loss of friends that can occur when a couple separates or goes through a divorce. Nonetheless, I must admit that I’d feel a slight sting each time this happened. Then I would stop to consider the drastic change in our personal circumstances and realize there was no ill will.
Indeed, I think it’s predictable that someone who only saw you as the partner of a friend or colleague might cast you adrift if the coupling is severed, whether by separation, divorce, even death. It’s far rarer to maintain such connections. Even so, separations involving former friends undermine my preference for order and predictability in my life. I’d feel these losses most acutely when I would reach out, only to realize the person did not enjoy my company well enough to make the time for us to get together. Sometimes their timid excuses felt insulting.
Can such abrupt separation occur between folks who are related by marriage? Undoubtedly it can, I believe.
At the same time, for me and her closest family, Lee seems to have been the glue that binds. The deep emotions that bind us to her even now also continue to bind us to each other.
I last time I saw Andy and Joe’s parents, Paul, and Joanne, was back in June, as they were departing to spend the Summer at their newly acquired out-of-state lakeside house. They just returned to town this past week.
As I’ve mentioned here before, it is ironic that Lee’s death should have brought her brother (and sister-in-law) and I closer than at any time while she was alive. Both Paul and I intensely felt her death, though in diverse ways, yet having witnessed firsthand his reaction to it has been revelatory.
Today, I see Paul to be a deeply caring, sincere and selfless older brother, who loved his sister very much. Because Paul has earned my deep respect, I now let things between us slide that would have never passed muster before Lee’s death. This was not always the case for me.
Paul and Joanne at times gave short shrift to Lee’s wishes. From where I sat, it seemed that they took her for granted. I never believed this offensive conduct was conscious or intentional. Rather, I concluded they were self-centered. Nonetheless, occasionally their behavior deeply hurt Lee, who but rarely chose to speak up about the perceived slights. Regardless, it stirred my ire.
I was highly protective of Lee, perhaps to an extreme degree, and am not ashamed to say so. Alas, I also have never been one to bite my tongue. This could prove to be a combustible mixture, which, from time to time, fueled explosive verbal exchanges between me and Paul. Today, these memories seem like sad remnants.
Still, despite the positive strides in our relationship since Lee passed, I have no guarantee that we will not drift apart over time. Thanks to Lee, our bond is strong but is not indestructible. I certainly hope that ours will prove to be a lifelong connection. It seems a fitting tribute to Lee’s lasting memory, but, as I say, only time will tell.