I was at a friend’s home, around the dinner hour, a few weeks ago. It was usual hustle and bustle of a family at the end of a work day. Kids doing homework, wondering what and who will expedite dinner, things of that sort. I know I must not have been helping with the settling in of the family at the end of a workday. You know what I’m describing, that Monday night, “Here we go again” feeling of your schedule. Karen and Bob have been the best friends we could ever ask for. Generous with their time or expertise, dropping whatever they are doing at a moments notice for a friend with a question or problem. I even go so far as to joke about Karen’s generosity… “Not only would she give you the shirt off her back, she would wash and iron it first!” I just love saying that about her. She is the friend I entrusted my daughter to, the night my husband died. My children had already said goodbye, and I asked Karen if she could have my daughter stay with her, while I was at Hospice. That is a friend, am I right?
So, back at the house during the dinner hour: Bob has just come home from work, and is chatting with me in the living room. The hustle and bustle is going around, when it hits me, like a brick house. Bob is wearing khakis and a shirt and tie. I stared at his tie, mesmerized at the way it fit snugly at his neck. I’m sure I must have had this truly uncomfortable look on my face, like I had to jump up and use the restroom, or perhaps I had remembered I left a pot on the stove. It wasn’t either of those things. The tie cued me into the feeling I used to have at the end of our day together, Scott and I. He would sit with his feet up on the coffee table, loafers and khakis draped across today’s Pro-Jo, laughing and telling his stories of the day he had. It was my favorite part of the day. I had missed it when he began to get really sick. Our dinner hours became incredibly stressful, all of us trying to make pretend everything was alright. But it wasn’t. We didn’t know any other way to be. We could only go through the parts we played. After Scott died, that first year of the dinner hour was the worst part of the day. We (the children and I) would have huge upheavals about how and what to serve, some wanted a chair taken away, it was too painful, others wanted to change the seating arrangements, while a third person wanted it to be exactly the same. Think about your own family. Who sits where at your table? Now imagine the empty seat. We were a ship, adrift at sea, without our Captain.
Oh, there was mutiny. By the end of our first year, I thought I would never have another meal together with my kids. My favorite part of the day, had turned into a huge anger fest. There were many times I ate alone, or not at all. Lots of yelling and stomping off, ruined meals, each person eating alone or having cereal. because. It was very, very rough.
Back at Karen and Bob’s, Bob was being his usual, funny self, and I was bawling like a baby. The look on his face reminded me of a Scottish Terrier I once had. He turned his head to the side, like the RCA dog who hears his master’s voice. You know the look. it says, “What is happening? Did I say something wrong?” I found myself laughing and crying, simultaneously. I was shocked by the power of a pair of khakis and a tie. God, how I missed sitting at the end of a day like this! I missed my old family! It was all gone. Too, too much was ruined by stupid cancer. I think that is what I was also feeling at the Breast Cancer Walk-a-thon. All the children and adults whose dinners were ruined, all the rituals over, the inability to recognize your own life anymore.
The real work takes place now. I decided, after ruining dinner for my friends that night, that I was going to take back my life and my dinner hour. We would get whatever glue we needed and put this family together again. That glue would be family rituals and a heavy dose of love. And so it goes.