It Takes a Little Grit
Last week, after night of teaching I came home and found a short letter in the mail. Always a nice change from bills and junk.
It was a thanks for my Christmas card and a shout out to my work at Spotlight. A nice little note. Expecting more light offerings I turned over the note and read:
“We all need to learn how to power on through you. You never expected a bowl of cherries so you keep on planting trees.“
I don’t think I have ever been more moved by or grateful for words. Those close to me know that I (and my family), have endured some horrible losses. The last two years have been a marathon of grief warring with acceptance. I carried on, some days almost defeated but I carried on, and tried to live with the new normal. I am beyond grateful that I have come through, and the wish to keep doing so remains strong. But I guess I am surprised anyone noticed, and noticed enough to write it down in such a beautiful way. And so grateful.
I am lucky too because I come from strong stock. My mom is the grittiest and most resilient person I have ever met. She taught my sister and I to power through no matter what the circumstances. Take a day or two (if you must) and then, back to it; why make a hard situation worse. Don’t be your own enemy, take control where you can. Hold on with both hands to what you can control.
She knew what she spoke of; at age seven her mother died of pneumonia and she went to live with a father she had never met. Not so typical in 1939. This man was brilliant, wealthy, and well connected. He was also incredibly and sadistically abusive to my mother and her many half siblings. Growing up I only met two of those siblings, and they were both terribly damaged. The others were supposedly worse off. My mom said it was different for her because she had seven years with a mom who adored her and share with my mom her deep faith. My mom held on to that faith and love through more than a decade of hell before breaking free.
My mom inherited the brilliance, was accepted premed at NYU, but had no real way to make that work on her own in the late 1940’s. Instead she worked, met my dad and raised her family. Because it was the fifties, no therapy, no sharing, no helping her inner child, just sheer guile and determination. My mother’s childhood, survival skills and powerful brain created a unique persona, and all that energy was directed at her children. We were her pride and joy, her reason for living, her accomplishments. (Have I mentioned she is not easy:)).
She found a way for us to have everything we needed to shine. Relationship with her husband was a far second to raising her children. One boy, two younger sisters, just right, we were her reason for living.
On January 23 in the late 1930’s my grandmother, my mother’s mother died. On January 23, 1977, my brother’s second daughter Jodi was born. A gift from God, a gift from my mother, was how my mom described Jodi. On January 23, 2003 my brother died horribly, slowly and unexpectedly. A staph infection taking more than a month to kill him as we all watched hopelessly. The cruelty of losing a mother and child in the same day as never left me. My sister and I thought my mom would follow shortly after him. My father had long since passed, I was in VT, my sister in CA. My brother had stayed on Long Island, he was to her mind a constant, she would not live through this blow.
Live through it she did. She still powers on with guile and determination. She outwits me at every turn as I try to get her to move in with me. Her formidable mind is failing, she shuffles,
her frame is shrinking, her will is not. She will not give up her independence without a fight; though she lets me know the dog is draw, and that it would be nice to see Hooper every day. I try not to take this personally. I look and see a life that has shrunk to very little but tv, the Yankees and memories. But still she rises, determined to hold on to what she can. I do not understand her stubbornness. I am frustrated at every turn. And then... I see this picture from Thanksgiving. My mother and her great grandchildren. The grandchildren of her beloved son. Namesake Xavier and sunny Emilia born to Jodi. And little Jackson, made his hard fight into the world four years go born to oldest daughter Lori. And I see, this, this is why she carries on.
Her son might not be here, but she still is, so she will keep holding on to what she can, and fight for another day. Because that day might be a day she is surrounded by the beautiful trees she planted.