A Difficult Gift, Part II
By Dr. Bill Long
Last December I wrote about some unexpected developments in my family as a result of my mother’s final illness. Her decline enabled the four sons to become much closer as we dealt with a myriad of issues relating to her care and estate. It also was the occasion for me to observe and appreciate the wonderful work done by selfless caregivers and hospice workers on behalf of those dying.
My mother died at age 88 just before last Christmas. There were mingled feelings of sadness and relief, but what we didn’t understand then was how her death was going to impact our families further in 2017. Because it was winter, and families already had many plans, we decided to hold an intimate memorial service for her on what would have been her 89th birthday in June 2017. All fourteen of us (four sons, three spouses, six grandchildren and one husband of a granddaughter) met at the home my parents bought in California in 1968 to celebrate her life. The evening was a joyous occasion—a big barbecue, a movie night and then, for about two hours, a family discussion. I realized that the fourteen of us had never been together all at once, so that gave the occasion both a serious and secure feeling.
We first had the brothers (born between 1950-60) speak, and especially speak of the most important lessons we felt our parents had taught us. My youngest brother also found a tape from 1980 of an interview he made with my father, who died the next year, of what it was like growing up on a farm in New York State in the 1930s. After the brothers had spoken, I opened the floor to the grandchildren. “What did they remember about Grandma Jean?” At first, they were reluctant to speak, but with a little prodding each related treasured stories about their grandmother. Most were funny, a few were sad, but they all illustrated the life of a person who lived well and loved her family.
Though the family gathering was itself a gift from my mother’s death, the truly unexpected thing was the way that the grandchildren, now mostly in their late 20s, began to connect with each other in new ways. They hadn’t all grown up around each other, but now, in the space of two hours, they deeply understood with what it meant to be a Long and what it meant to be strong and capable young people from the same family. Since that time, some of them have connected in person, with many more trips to see each other on the horizon.
Christmas 2016 was difficult, but it brought us unexpected gifts in 2017. Thanks Mom, and Dad, for all you did for us!