In this season of promise and expectation, my thoughts go to the myriad of Everyday Angels that surround me, my powerful circle of love and hope. You all, who have given me so much, will be in my heart forever. I know you will be richly rewarded for your gentle kindnesses and loving generosity. Especially those of you who know my many flaws but love me anyway, thank you for being role models of compassion. Your humanity inspires me. I pray that you all will be showered with blessings.
No matter what, I am so grateful for my children and the many treasured Christmas memories that revolve around them. Throughout the years, you four, individually and collectively, have given me more joyful moments than you will ever know. There is nothing you could ever do or say that could change my love for you. That love is for eternity.
December is such a busy month, and not just because of Christmas. In our family, we have significant dates on both ends of the spectrum of life. I have two precious grandchildren born in December. And, sadly, my husband Dennis died in December, five days before Christmas, twenty years ago this month. Our kids were 6, 8, 15 and 16. I was 39 and he was only 40.
His death was a hideous shock. He was an active guy, slim and athletic. But he apparently had congenital heart disease that was never picked up. The worst thing I have ever had to do in my life was witness the suffering my children endured at his loss and not be able to fix it or make it go away. Every subsequent family milestone that I went through alone at first was excruciatingly painful, then gradually faded to a dull poignancy.
We have four grandchildren now, will have five in February. He would have been a marvelous grandfather, because he was a big kid at heart. He was always up for playing a game, reading a story, going for a walk or making up silly sayings.
A tugboat pilot, he was very good at his job. But it was a career he had been caught in, not a career he had chosen. At 17, a neighbor gave him a job at Circle Line, the Manhattan sightseeing boats, as a line catcher, the lowest job on the pier. (This neighbor just happened to be a VP at Circle Line). Dennis was a reliable, hard worker and popular with the other guys, so he easily worked his way up to deckhand. Because he was ambitious, he studied for and obtained his pilot’s license, a notoriously hard accomplishment. He became a captain at Circle Line and then a pilot on the tugs.
But what he really wanted to be, more than anything, was a high school gym teacher. He would have been fantastic. He loved kids and he loved sports, he was a natural. When I “helped” our kids with their homework, I was shrieking maniac within 15 seconds. He was endlessly patient. But he never had the luxury of quitting his job to go back to school, he had a family to support. So he settled for being an autodidact and was quite learned in many subjects, especially the Civil War and geography. We used to challenge each other to Jeopardy. Getting comfortable on the sofa, our younger son would sit between us and keep score. We’d turn the show on and most of the time it would be neck and neck. But if I won, it was usually just because I had a faster mouth. He was always a good loser, whereas if I lost, I would pout. It was years before I could watch Jeopardy again. It just made me too sad.
He was a die-hard New Yorker, something that had bonded him with my grandfather. These two complicated men had a genuine respect and fondness for each other. And like my grandfather, not-so-deep-down, Dennis was a quiet romantic. His favorite movies were West Side Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Quiet Man and Dog Day Afternoon, all films about flawed men with huge capacities to love. He had a soft spot for animals, with their helplessness and unconditional affection. He was especially fond of an obscure TV movie from 1969, J.T. It has only been broadcast once or twice since (although it is available here on YouTube, in 4 parts). J.T. is set in Harlem, a touching but raw story about a lonely boy who secretly nurses an injured alley cat while trying to cope with the challenges of inner city life. Dennis saw himself in that little boy and talked about comparisons often. Although he had his melancholy streak, he was incredibly funny and had a sharp wit, but plain old slapstick, like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, could leave him crying with laughter.
Golf was such a passion that he would have pitched a tent out on the green if he could have. He was a great athlete and probably could have played professional baseball if he had had the encouragement and support he needed as a kid.
Twenty years is an awfully long time. We had been married for 17, known each other for 20, had four wonderful children together. He had a hard life and dealt with many challenges, some more successfully than others. He was a very good man at heart, but I know he always wanted to be better. He was always striving. I am so sad for him that he has missed so much. Sometimes it seems as though he will walk through the door any second. It happens far less now, but I still find myself occasionally thinking, “oh, I have to tell Dennis” and then I remember. I think he would have been very proud of my accomplishments. It feels desperately unfair that his life was so short. But I want to believe he is in a place of happiness and healing, far better off than I can comprehend.Thank you Lord, for making Yourself one of us. Please strengthen our faith in You. Please make us worthy of Your love and of each other.
Merry Christmas, Dennis.
Merry Christmas everyone.
Merry Christmas, Dennis.
Merry Christmas everyone.
|Fragment of a painting, Shooting Star, by Stephen Magsig |
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