The last time they were here horrible words were thrown into the summer air like acid. An acid strong enough to finally dissolve the already fragile threads holding the relationship in place. Years passed and silence reigned. Tense. Pulsing with pain. Illuminated by lightning flashes of anger.
How could a father say that to his son? How could a mother stand by and pretend it wasn't as awful as it was? How could a son truly believe in his essential worth standing in the exhaust of their hasty departure with the last word?
On the other side, their questions were full of the same pain and incredulity. How could a son treat his parents that way? What had they ever done do deserve this? Couldn't we understand?
This son has a brilliant loving spirit which not even that horrible summer confrontation could dim. He hurt. He grieved. He forgave.
And then he began to send birthday cards to his parents. Signed by him alone because his wife wasn't quite so forgiving. Then he was needed to help his parents move into a new home, and he went without hesitation. That was followed by occasional careful phone calls from the mom who only ever wanted peace and who always made him laugh. And then once in a while the dad would get on the phone - briefly, gruffly, but there. More laughter happened. Forgiveness grew. The wife eventually consented to having her name added to the cards. "I love you," became the blessing at the end of phone conversations. With his two siblings, he surprised them on their anniversary with a weekend visit - the original family of five together for a couple of days of surprisingly easy love and familiar laughter.
Each act of reaching out created a new thread of relationship, fragile at first until there were enough to form a cord of trust.
Last summer the son and his wife were "in the neighborhood" of the parents on their way home from vacation. They stopped for a visit, and the lose threads of new relationship began to weave themselves into something resembling whole cloth.
The son, my husband Walt, turned 60 on Monday. I decided he needed to know how loved he is and organized a surprise party in his honor. I called his mom to invite his parents in person. And invited them to stay the night so they wouldn't have to make the six hour trip home, so maybe final touches could be put on the new fabric of family. They said yes without hesitation.
In the weeks before the party Mom and I talked regularly. Her excitement at a gathering of friends and relatives to celebrate her son was that of a little girl anticipating Christmas. She helped with addresses and ideas and offered assistance at every turn.
The day of the party, Saturday, Mom and Dad were the first to arrive. They were the first people Walt saw. They were the last people to leave on Sunday morning.
Their presence was sunshine - bright, healing, life-giving. The people who brought Walt here gave him the gift of the best love they have to offer on the day he began the first leg of his journey into the unknown territory of his final decades. A gift in many ways Walt gave himself in his willingness to forgive and his determination to love.
For my part, how can I not love the two people from whom this amazing man came? Thank you Mom and Dad for your willingness to let go and love, and for giving Walt the certain knowledge that he matters more than hurt pride to you. Happy birthday, Honey. Your goodness shines brighter with every year. May this new fabric not only endure, but also continue to grow more beautiful in the years to come.