Family Stories

The Old Pink Bathrobe

A man died not long ago in our town.  He jumped off a bridge and he left a wife and three sons behind; shocked, gutted and trying to square this act with the man they knew.

This event stunned and silenced us all.  The very finality of it, the public nature, the shame and the many questions that must still float unanswered in the minds of the loved ones.  And always the hardest… what if?  could I have?  I imagine that one will take a long time to work through.

This news caused us all to pause in our tracks and, as sudden loss does, to feel around the edges of our own mortality.

The day after the funeral I was driving my daughter to school in my trademark pajamas and bathrobe.  She had known the sons peripherally, not well.  They were good kids by all accounts.  Sitting next to her in the car it suddenly, viscerally, flooded through me that these boys’ Dad would not be present to watch them graduate, choose a mate, give them career advice, and bounce grandchildren on his knee.  It was suddenly, overwhelmingly sad, as we drove down the road by the high school, the early morning sun dappling the windshield.

“Did a lot of kids go to the funeral?”  I asked.

“Yeah.  There were tons of boys with ties on in school yesterday.”

“Oh.”  That was a sobering image, all of these “little men” in high school going to support their friends at a very terrible and grown up passage in their lives.

“It’s so sad,” I whispered and I felt my eyes fill with tears and my voice get thick and ropey.

My daughter looked at me intently.  My kids have seen me cry—but not much.  I’m not opposed to it.  It’s just that I pick my moments.

I cried for this family, this mother, whom I knew only peripherally.  I cried for us, for what our family would have looked like had my husband not recovered from his critical injury.  I cried for us now — lucky– unerringly lucky and without any explanation for why some skate through and others don’t.  I cried because mostly I couldn’t stop.

“Mom?” my daughter said now, looking fully at me.  It makes my kids nervous when I cry.

“Honey?”  My voice was still breaking.  “I want you to always be able to take care of yourself.  I want you to study hard and get a good education and get a great job and be able to support yourself and your kids.  No matter what happens.”  My words flooded out of me, tripping on themselves.

“You can’t count on anyone in this life.  Things happen that are out of your control and I always want you to be able to take care of your own.  Promise?”

She was looking at me like I was crazy now.  The pajamas, the uncombed hair, the tears.  She was uncomfortable, unsure how to react.  Was I losing it?

“I’m OK,” I said with a quick smile to show her that the real me was still in there.  “I just want you to be able to count on yourself.”

It was a harsh message for 7:30 am.  And from what place did that spring?  From fear or experience or all of the above?  My parents were still married, my husband and I had a firm bond that she could witness every day.  My Dad had made enough to keep them comfortable in old age.  My husband was back at work after his devastating injury, bringing home the bacon.  Sure, there were examples of people we knew where life hadn’t worked out so well, but we were intact.  Our family had bounced back.

I pulled up to the curb where all the other parents were letting their kids out.  I waved to Jimmy the crossing guard and made my signature funny face and thumbs up at him.

“I love you honey,” I said squeezing her leg.”  I knew better than to lean in or go above the belt.  This was “no touch” territory.  You didn’t go getting public kisses and hugs at this age around here.

I felt foolish and spent. I wasn’t sure where all of that emotional sincerity had just sprung from.

“I love you too Mom,” she said.  And right there on the curb, she leaned in for a public hug on the worn shoulder of my pink polka dotted bathrobe.

5 Comments

  1. Karen Putz

    July 15, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    My heart goes out to that family. 🙁

  2. Roz Jordan

    July 15, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    A vivid evocation of loss, of painful memories suppressed, and of gratitude born out of crisis. Being unable to stop your tears makes complete sense here.

    I had a similar reaction this week when I found out a good friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. I instantly thought of my oldest friend in the world, who lost her valiant battle against the disease a few years ago, and left her boys without their mother. I thought of my sister’s mother-in-law who lost her fight too. And I thought of all the other people I know in their early 40’s who are struggling with a similar crisis or with a relative’s illness. I was truly breathless, and in a throbbing, aching, desperate way.

    Is it the love for the people in our lives that makes us so susceptible to these waves of emotion and pain and memories? Perhaps. Should we try to deny these waves when they suddenly appear? Never.

  3. Debb Finke

    July 15, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    The message I get from your post, was just how wonderful any unexpected moment can become…..when we are at our most ‘vulnerable REAL being self’, our children often have an innate sense to know when it’s time to connect with us, no matter what the surroundings, who’s watching, ….they can tune out the world except for us in that moment. You have been challenged beyond measure, and yet you still have great stories to share with us, for this I am truly thankful. You were so down to earth and portrayed such peace when I got to meet you at the Reinvention Convention, thanks for being who you are and for sharing ‘life happens’ moments with us all.

  4. Liz

    July 15, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    Well, with not all that many words you managed to get me all choked up and teary – guess we’re at that age where today really counts.

    Underscoring our upcoming family trip – and the point that I am trying to make – is the fact that tomorrow isn’t always guaranteed. So we’re seizing the day, heading west to Seattle, Portland and the Oregon coast – to have the kind of trip that will live large in our memory bank.

  5. Liz Weske

    July 15, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    Just read about your trip to school, and how hearing of a local family’s life changing event- can stir up such emotion-in you.
    As usual Lee, I can relate…sometimes I get accused of ” thinking ” too much…
    When ever I hear of a family’s tradgedy, I can’t help but reflect on ” what if ??” I mourn for them, even if I did not know them well..
    I hug my kids alittle closer, and reflect on what that family must be dealing with….An old family friend, just found out that their 9th grader has stage 4 cancer, diagnosed after he had his wisdom teeth pulled and he could not feel better….
    A former co- workers mother dies suddenly, while volunteering at home away from home, the hospital, my best friend’s sister husband, age 54, dies while driving himself to the hospital with a bad headache….
    SHOCK….how do these people go on ? You are just living your life and then BANG- it happens, as you well know.

    I do not know, but one of these events prompted me to write the letters to my children, to read it the day ever comes, when I am suddenly- just gone…from this world. Things I want them to hear from me, that I might not get another chance to say.

    I do enough mourning for all of them, the crying, and deep thoughts…so I know exactly what you were talking about- yet again.

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