I was there the morning his dad died. We were at the hospital with his whole family, and I was just the girlfriend at that point. I was holding his infant niece, Peyton, bobbing her gently as I walked up and down the hall when someone called “Code Blue” overhead and a flurry of blue-scrubbed figures rushed past us and through the doors and into the room. His dad’s room. And in less than ten minutes, the world changed completely. There were no more guarantees. Except one, I thought: This would never happen again.
Seven years later, I was sitting in his mom’s beautiful home, surrounded by his siblings and feeling absolutely crippled by the cloud of emotion hanging over the house, just hours before she slipped away. How could this be? I believed—no, I knew—there must be some sort of laws governing the universe that spared this from happening a second time. Not so.
Last night, we sat around a large round table together at a favorite restaurant to celebrate Ryan’s paper. The four orphans and their spouses. It wasn’t easy for everybody to make it, many a schedule had to be rearranged, but we finally gathered at 8:15 for dinner. I tried to mask my emotions when I first sat down, because seeing them together, trying their best to be father, mother, brother, and sister to each other sometimes just seems so terribly, terribly sad.
But, it wasn’t long before we were laughing, and it wasn’t long after that when we were talking about their parents and their deaths and some of the unsettling details that haunt them in the crevices of their memories. And after it was discussed which shade of purple his dad’s face was before dying, Ryan asked if we might lighten things up a bit by discussing the war in Iraq.
Others might not understand this, and that’s because those others haven’t had to.
The four of them amaze me. As much as I feel I understand them and how they feel, there is still a monumental divide between us. Yesterday I picked my parents up from the airport, drove them home, hung out at their house for a bit, and hugged them goodbye. Both of them. A simple errand like this keeps me worlds away from my husband’s reality. And (quite selfishly) I’m glad.
If there’s a silver lining to their story, it’s the beauty of a casual moment like last night. They love each other, and not in the obligatory, we-share-the-same-DNA sort of way. They are deeply connected to one another, bound by thousands of daily phone calls about everything and nothing, millions of minutes spent together in an effort to prove to each other that they are not alone. They like each other. They need each other. They know each other like no one else can.
I hate that Ryan couldn’t call his dad yesterday and give him the good news. His dad would have told him at least a hundred times how proud he was, then asked for a copy of the paper to read and print out to show his friends at work. He probably would have taken it to Kinko’s and had it hardbound and engraved with the date and an inspirational thought. He was like that.
His mom would have written him a card saying that she loves him for all the ways he continues to excel at everything he does. She wouldn’t have asked to read the paper; she’d say it was way over her head. But she’d be smiling and looking at him, and probably offering to take him to the mall to get a new shirt and tie for his interview on Monday. She was like that.
But if you can’t have your parents, it’s good to have a brother and two sisters who show up for a late dinner.
Even if after dinner, as you reach halfway home, one of your sisters calls to tell you she ran out of gas on the freeway entrance downtown. (She had decided not to fill up the car with gas because she was trading it in the next day on a new car.) And she will know—as you drive all the way back to get them and take them to the gas station at 10:30 p.m.—that you still love her when you say, “My hell, Andrea, I’m sure glad you saved three dollars.”