Finding balance in the second half of life

How to Say Goodbye to Your First True Love

In Fulfillment, Romance on February 16, 2017 at 4:41 pm

First, when a mutual friend calls you out of the blue and says it’s time, are you coming, say yes. Cancel all your meetings and appointments except your haircut. Hate yourself for caring about looks at a time like this. Cancel the haircut.

Tell your husband of 30 years where you’re going. Try to explain why. When he nods, mentally give him 100 points on the running tab you keep of your marriage.

Turn the house upside img_3946-2-1down looking for a specific photo—the black and white one you took from the audience when he was playing first chair in the orchestra. The one that shows off his cheekbones. Give up after two hours. Settle for the one you took of him cradling his dog like a baby. Hope it will make him smile.

Think about what you will say to him. Time will be short. He can’t focus for long. Never has it felt so important to be concise. Eloquence would be nice, but clarity is job one. You decide on “I came because I wanted to say thank you. You made a difference in my life.” Write it down. You will be nervous and might forget.

Think about what you will say to his young adult children. They likely have never heard your name until today. You decide on “I have to be honest. I feel awkward being here and I’m afraid I will say the wrong thing. Thank you for letting me come so I could tell your dad he made a difference in my life.” Write it down.

Forget to think about what you will say to his girlfriend.

Take food. It’s what people do. Bagels are good. They can be frozen for later. You buy a dozen bagels, fresh, and cream cheese.

On the drive to his house, get lost in the fog. Not just turned around, but so lost that you can’t find north. Think of how it’s a metaphor. Pull over and try to learn the car’s navigation system. Curse technology. Set the route. Get back on the road.

To calm yourself, take deep breaths and recite Nessun Dorma. When you get to the last two lines—“Until I say my real name on your mouth/Let all lights shine and no man sleep”—let yourself weep, but only for two miles. After two miles, allow for another 20 miles. Better to get the ugly stuff out of the way now. Wonder why, exactly, you are sobbing. For him? For your long-lost youth? For the loss of possibility?

Ignore the navigation system when, five miles from his house, it says, “You have reached the end of your charted route. No more information on your destination is available.” Acknowledge that you are off the map in more ways than one.

After you park, give yourself a pep talk. You can do this. It’s important. Forget to review your notes lying on the passenger seat.

Go inside. Introduce yourself—just your name. Don’t take off your coat. You’re not staying long. Thrust the plastic bag of bagels into his daughter’s arms. Silently berate yourself for not thinking to put them in a nicer container. Say, “Nice to meet you. Thank you for letting me come.” Forget everything else.

When things cannot possibly get any more awkward, make your way to the hospital bed set up in the living room. Find a fifth gear somewhere inside yourself. Do not show you are alarmed by how small he has become. Even though his eyes are closed, his children and girlfriend are watching. Be cool. By all means, do not think of the shape of his arms when you knew him, sculpted from wielding a planer all day. Touch his hand and say, “It’s me, Chris,” even though you go by Christine now, because that is what he called you back then.

Say, “I came to say thank you. You made a huge difference in my life.”

When he arches his eyebrows and answers with genuine surprise, “I have?” don’t panic as everything that was the you and the him together comes rushing back at the sound of his voice, which you had forgotten, the distinctive way he shapes his vowels. In a heartbeat, it will level you.

Regroup. Do not let all that is in you come pouring out. Do not tell him how often over the years he has shown up in your dreams, not as a lover but as a priest of creativity. Too complicated. Stick to the plan.

Smile so that even though his eyes are still closed, he can hear the smile in your voice. Say, “Yes. You showed me a different path—art and music—that a creative life was possible. You changed the direction of my life.”

Don’t be disappointed when he doesn’t respond. You have done what you came to do. Squeeze his hand. Say, “Rest well.”

Make small talk with his children. Say, “I knew him when I was just 18 and it changed everything.” Leave it at that. As you are walking out the door, remember the picture of him looking down at his dog. Hand it to his son. When it makes him smile, give yourself over to gratitude—for this, for everything.–Christine MacLean

Things I wish I had

In Uncategorized on October 28, 2015 at 7:09 pm

A butterfly bush in the front yard.
A clothesline in the back,
so I could feel the sun
and virtuous at the same time.
The thing with feathers.
A ride on the swing
with my daughter
when she was four,
her legs wrapped around my waist,
her face backlit
at the height of our arc.
Courage.
My sister-in-law,
back from the dead,
doing her impression of a stewardess–
a staple at Thanksgiving–
pointing with two fingers
towards the exit.
Or even
the sharp memory of her laugh,
which is feathering
just three years,
three months,
and one day
into forever.

–Christine MacLean

It’s Father’s Day

In Family on June 21, 2015 at 3:16 pm

The photos of fathers shared on Facebook this morning, Father’s Day, send me to my photo albums. Surely there’s something in there that I could scan and share, to assert that I, too, have a father who was loving and loved. What I find is the result of my father’s role as photographer in our family. I have photos of him in the army, hamming it up in Paris and Morocco. I have a photo of him and my mom during their courtship. For the 10 years we shared a family, I have photos of myself, running down the sidewalk, sitting on a rowboat, smelling tulips and apple blossoms. This morning, I recognize those photos as seeing myself through my father’s eyes.

I was in the bathroom when my father died. I mention this because I’ve come to see it as emblematic of death coming at its own convenience, during the mundane, the remarkable, the everyday, the breathtaking.

My mother knocked on the door. “Lois?”

“Yeah?”

“Your father is gone.”

It was ridiculous, unbelievable. My father’d been sick for some time. I hadn’t seen him standing up for weeks and weeks; how could he suddenly get up and go somewhere?

I fastened my shorts (grey ones my mother had sewn) and opened the door. My mother’s eyes were red but she wasn’t crying. She hugged me, and I followed her downstairs, to the den where we’d installed a hospital bed. My father lay under a loosely woven gold cotton throw. He looked gray and asleep. My mother stood next to the foot of the bed, looking into his face. She put her hand on his calf in a gesture of love and loss. He didn’t move. Her eyes were red but she wasn’t crying.

One of Dad’s nurses, Mary Lou, sat by the head of the bed. She stayed for a few minutes after we came in and then took muted, white-shoed steps out the side door.

The ambulance, white with orange trim, rolled up silently. I was not there when they put him on the gurney, but I saw it half-wheeled, half-carried out the front door and down the few cement steps of the ranch house. Looking past the sheet-tented gurney and the ambulance and the lawn and the street, I saw the red-brick church, the cement staircase to my father’s office.

His parents, my grandparents, drove in from two towns over. They came in through the garage, into the laundry room. I ran through the kitchen, past the bathroom, and met them. Grandma hugged me; which was not her instinct and happened rarely. My brother and I weren’t sure what to do. We asked Mom if it would be okay if we watched The Beverly Hillbillies. She said not. We sat in the awkward silence as the living room filled up with people; then we went to our rooms to read.

The funeral home was on the east side of town. To get there for the visitation, we walked past the house of the only adult I’d ever met with the same first name I have. She was a member of my father’s church.

My father’s brother, who was also a minister, led the funeral. I sat in the front pew, right side, with my mother and brother and sister. I wore a cream-colored dress, also sewn by my mother, with a rust and gold pattern of birds, branches, and birdcages. There was brown lace on the ruffles on the short sleeves; there were three buttons down the back and smocking across the front, under the bodice.

All of that is quite clear to me, as though I were taking my own photos of myself, seeing myself through my father’s lens. As the decades pass, though, I have many more questions—about who my father was and might have become, what our relationship might have been, what I might have become as a result—than I have clear memories.

It’s only in retrospect that we can recognize the legacies we’ve received. I know I’ve inherited a sad season. It starts with the lilies of Easter, which are inscribed on his gravestone to symbolize the resurrection, and extends through his birthday and Father’s Day in June, ending with the anniversary of his death on July 5. Along with that is a love of words and books, a certain sense of humor, a dash of rebelliousness, a heritage of faith.

And those questions.

In The Jesus Cow, Michael Perry has a character muse, “She supposed it was the work that had kept her head occupied while her heart healed in the wake of Dougie’s death. In fact, it didn’t heal so much as learn to beat with a hole in it.”

I recognize that hole, which, in spite of the passage of time, does gape on Father’s Day. And I know that my heart does keep beating.

–Lois Maassen