There is no surprise in the arrival of autumn weather when it’s this late in the year. A week ago the leaves were still green, a rogue yellow, orange, red or brown leaf peeking out from behind the other younger-looking ones. Like the appearance of those few first stray hairs, I almost convinced myself that fall colors were still in the future…
Summer came and went in what seemed a wave of crises. It began with the news that Dada’s father wasn’t doing well, and it ended with his interment. In the middle of all that, my father (a sturdy man of good, rural Calabrian stock) was enfeebled by a stroke. My calls to my stepmom no longer involve “what mood is he in?” but rather “how well is he holding up?” The once-mighty is now like a child who complains and seeks comfort from a woman he can’t quite remember being married to for the past twenty years. No wonder the leaves are turning so quickly…
J has managed the stress of all these situations quite well. It seems at times he’s handled it better than us. I would like to think that this speaks of the resilience built into youth, but I know that we have added another success to our record: we haven’t “lost it” in the middle of all the things that have been happening. And if we HAVE lost it, we’ve managed to keep it away from J. While we know that J won’t always have the benefit of being surrounded by cotton wadding in the middle of crises, we didn’t feel it was fair to unload on him all the emotional strife that we’ve been experiencing. Two parents in precarious health are quite a lot to deal with when you’re not a family with a special needs person in its midst…when you have an autistic kid who cannot fully comprehend the abstract concept of dying (because people leave rooms, go elsewhere, travel, move to another house, get in a car or plane or train, but dying is not just the act of ceasing to be alive) it would be cruel to surround him with angst that he can’t process properly.
Dada traveled to his father’s funeral alone. I think he thought that he could handle this by himself. Nothing is more jarring than realizing you’ve miscalculated your ability to handle grief. Jet lag didn’t help the sombre nature of his trip to California; the hectic pace of the proceedings should have brought some respite to everyone, but it just seemed to serve as a way to not directly deal with the situation. If you’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic you’ll immediately start discussing how the roads are just too jammed with cars, how late it makes you to everything unless you factor in all the possible routes, delays, etc. The exhaustion of all this distracts you from the fact that you’re about to put your father’s ashes in a crypt until it’s dark and you’re alone.
J noticed Dada’s absence, and took advantage of FaceTime to interact with him. The kid who won’t talk on the phone was sitting on the floor just gazing lovingly at his Dada’s face while Dada talked about his day, the woes and delays of travel and traffic, and so on… By the time the kids returned from the gym on Sunday evening, Dada was home in his Doctor Who lounge pants, and all was right with J’s world. We’ve slowly fallen into our groove since then; grief is translating into other positive things; we talk a little more, reminisce a little more, just hang out together a little more.
I am mere weeks away from my fiftieth birthday. OK, the new year has to arrive before then, but it’s weeks…ok, four months-ish. The end of my forties, however, seems imminent. As I was telling Dada this morning, the person I see in the mirror really needs to go and find my reflection. I’m sure there’s a younger version wandering aimlessly inside the mirror. The woman who went to dinner with my husband on Saturday night was clearly a middle-aged woman of rather ample dimensions and significantly grayer-than-I-thought hair. Maybe if I fostered the habit of looking at my reflection more often I’d be more accustomed to her (seemingly sudden) appearance. Dada says she’s totally recognizable and doesn’t look as bad as I claim, but we all know that he’s a desperate old man with failing eyesight, dwindling options and very low standards.
I suppose that when many difficult things happen in a short period of time, we start feeling our age a little more. Of course, you can argue that Sandra Bullock , Monica Bellucci, Famke Janssen, Mariska Hargitay, Mary Louise Parker, Marisa Tomei, Juliette Binoche, Bridget Fonda, Laura Linney and so forth are all fifty (or close to it) and they look fine. Well…give them a year in this household and we’ll see. You could also argue that a lot of my classmates are 50 or close to it, and they look great. I guess we just age according to the elements that come into play in our lives.
Dada came home with a large box full of printed photos. The plan is that I will scan them and distribute them so everyone has a copy of the family album. Last night we spent an hour organizing the packages of pictures by date, and we looked through them. We saw the evolution of a couple into a family, and we saw children grow into adulthood. And, as we look around the house, we can see the same children turned into adults turned into parents of children who have turned into adults. TGG has realized, from looking at pictures from two years ago, that Dada has, in fact, joined the ranks of the middle-aged and that I’ve happily (and inevitably) joined him.
With the skinnier part of 2014 comes the realization that we are all getting older. The “old guard” (as my aunt liked to call older people until she became one herself) is slowly going away. Dada was surprised at how few of his father’s contemporaries attended the funeral, and how many of the children he grew up with showed up looking, well, middle-aged. A picture taken during this trip shows five brothers looking like time has just kept on rolling, and they’ve rolled with it.
J is ready for his colder-weather wardrobe. His colder-weather wardrobe, though, isn’t ready for him…everything is too big. Every pair of pants, even with a belt, is much too loose. In the course of a year, J has changed enough to warrant a new winter wardrobe. He has learned to eat better; he has learned to handle his temper; he has made peace with the fact that dogs exist and they will, unexpectedly, cross his path. It has been a year of changes…at least the ones J’s experienced are good, and make us feel encouraged and warm inside.
The rest of the stuff that’s altered, well, we’ll work through it little by little, together, more awake, more aware. That’s why we’re here.