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    A trip back to the midwest — and the passing of my last grandparent — raises the question: what do we have that we can take with us, and what do we leave behind?

What is your legacy?

Start: Around 15 years ago I went home — home being Indiana — to a small town in the lush rolling hills south of Fort Wayne. After living in the Phoenix area, in the middle of the barren Sonoran Desert for the better part of twenty years, the view during the landing run to Indianapolis airport was a stunning contrast to the dry browns, rusted reds, and bleak grays I had been living with for two decades. I was absorbed in the panorama below of a patchwork quilt of vigorous greens, muddy river browns, and flat blues, of furrows of farmland crops bordered and broken with creeks and modest rivers.

It was Life. Everywhere. As far as the eye could see.

What brought me there, unfortunately, was just the opposite of Life. My grandmother, my father’s mother and my only surviving grandparent, had passed away at the respectable age of 90, and I had come to be some support to my father as he faced this grim milestone.

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    A reflection on Love, Family, closure, and the loose ends that Life can leave untied.

Marilyn, Bogie, and Lauren

Start: Date night.

My wife fresh from the salon, dolled up, sporting her red ensemble. A dinner at the steakhouse at a casino close to our home, the best restaurant in the house.

The restaurant had been recently given a subtle makeover and some new touches stood out. We were seated at a booth with a striking black and white celebrity photograph from the ’50’s: Lauren Bacall, Arthur Miller, a man turned away from the camera who may or may not have been Peter Lawford, and in the center, Marilyn Monroe.

My wife was radiant, and felt suitably indulged. The salad and soup course were very good, and the entrees themselves were excellent. Our conversation became more sparse as we enjoyed meals so large that half of them both would go home in a box. Paradoxically I was suddenly struck with a touch of emptiness.

I was here with my wife of nearly sixteen years, but otherwise, we were alone.

I twisted around to take in the celebrities in the photo over us again — Marilyn seemed openly, truly happy, laughing a laugh without a trace of self-consciousness that surprised me in how much it resembled my mother’s.

I found myself thinking about the people who weren’t here, who would be pleased our marriage had been as successful as it had, people I would be proud to show this to. My father’s mother, who lived to ninety, my mother’s sister, my parents. All passed, all taken.

This was not a great surprise with my mother — she had been dealing with several chronic illnesses that finally took their toll and claimed her just as she was entering her sixth decade. My father’s passing though, was a surprise to everyone. We had fully expected him to make it into his eighties or further, but was only in his seventies when an aneurism quickly took him.

Death had not just taken most of the older generations of my family, but had cheated me of something else. It had cheated me of finding common ground with a grandmother who never really understood me. It had cheated me out of developing an equitable relationship with my parents, a relationship where the buried and fossilized issues of my childhood and youth could be unearthed and laid bare under the glaring sunlight of Truth. To finally be scattered by a healing wind of absolution, to leave fertile soil where trust and an uncompromised love could finally, authentically be sown and nurtured.

A moment of quiet, rueful grief, a moment of mourning for the bonds of love that never came to be.

No, not in this lifetime.

And yet … and yet. The words of Gibran came back to me: You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore. You shall be together when white wings of death scatter your days. Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.

Much later at home that evening I discovered these were Gibran’s words on marriage. And, yes, every family is a marriage, every family bound to each other through Love, Regret, Guilt, Shame, or any other shackle you care to imagine.

This is a certainty to me: the relationships persist, even after death.

Someday, perhaps, in some lifetime, some different existence, the wounds of this one might be finally healed.

MarilynMindful of the black and white photo of Marilyn and her attending celebrities, standing in the spotlight, center stage before the whole world — a woman who died a troubled death alone and broken — we left the restaurant and made our way home.

Perhaps, someday, her wounds would be healed as well.

For now, though, for my wife and myself, there was love enough.

I could close this with some solemn, soothing words on the people who aren’t here in your life, because you must have them.

I could close this with some exposition on the need to find resolution in relationships, the importance of authenticity, of honesty with self and others, of God’s omniscience and Infinite Love for us despite all He/She/It clearly sees.

But I won’t.


Copyright © 2009, by Daniel Brenton. All Rights Reserved.