Janet Sheridan: A less painful place
May 2, 2013
All six of my siblings came to the reunion Joel and I hosted last summer, but only three members of the younger generation made it. Perhaps the no-show nieces and nephews needed a break from their elders' tendency to recycle stories, take afternoon naps and provide updates on the deaths and arrests of distant relatives and long-ago friends.
Without the distraction of teenagers made edgy by family travel, toddlers displaying the wrong number of fingers when asked their age and babies willing to be bounced by beaming strangers, we concentrated on one another — an alarming activity.
Given time to ponder one another at length, we tried to mask our surprise and dismay at the data our scrutiny provided: stooped backs, prominent stomachs, faltering steps, lusterless teeth, short-sighted squinting, brown-dotted limbs and hair sprouting where least expected. A tumult of years had tumbled us into kaleidoscope shapes and hues previously considered impossible.
"Good grief, what's happened to us?" I thought. "We spend too much time explaining our odd answers to questions we don't hear and wallowing about when exiting a soft couch. We peer hopelessly when younger eyes spot a butterfly on a bush and exclaim in false, bright tones at its beauty when we can't see the bush, never mind the butterfly."
My siblings and I have become the older generation that used to look on fondly as we organized games and chased after children. We are the old folks who go to bed early so we can get up with the sun, while our descendants reminisce and laugh late into the night.
After we'd recovered from the shock of one another's appearance, we settled into the pleasure of being together, happy that everyone managed to find the reunion site — a rental vacation home near the Grand Mesa — without wandering around lost and hungry, quibbling about the driving directions provided. Reunited and well fed, we soon relaxed into the warmth of our relationship and the free-flowing conversations that renew it.
Since the deaths of our parents, I'd noticed that our conversations centered on Dad easily and often, and although we frequently mentioned Mom, I wondered why we didn't talk about her at length and in detail the way we did our father.
Then, the second night after dinner, Blaine said, "If you could ask Mom a question right now, what would you ask her?" His words opened our hearts, and we talked and talked and talked about the woman who had administered the daily discipline, carried out the constant teaching and injected the doses of humor that formed us.
Sometimes we fell silent as a sibling described a revealing interaction or conversation with Mom the rest of us hadn't already heard. We remarked on her ability to handle us in accordance with our individual personalities and needs. We laughed. Other times we had difficulty hearing one another over our resounding sniffles and sobs.
The next morning during breakfast, I expressed happiness with the way our conversation the night before seemed to bring the full force of our mother back to us and wondered why we hadn't had such a conversation about her sooner.
JL responded that, unlike Dad, who died at 92 after being quite sick for several months, Mom died too soon and too suddenly.
"It's only recently," he said, "that I've become reconciled to her loss. My feelings about her were still too tender."
I think he spoke for all of us. As Mother's Day approaches, I'm glad we've arrived at a less painful place.