Sunday, December 24, 2006

Always Pack Black Pants

A few Christmases ago, MySister gave me clothes. Colorful clothes. She said I was always wearing black and that I needed more color. I tried to explain that part of the East Coast welcome wagon was the "perfect pair of black pants" -- everyone either has them or is on a mission for them. They are, after all, incredibly, evening, special occasions, dress-up or dress-down.

She was unimpressed and shoved a red shirt at me.

Regardless of where I'm going when I travel, I wind up, by default, with a pair of black pants in tow. I packed my favorites for my week-long trip home to see the family specifically because I needed an outfit to wear to church. I also figured if we went out to a restaurant or something some evening, I'd be covered.

I got the call in the middle of the extended family Christmas gift-bonanza on Wednesday night. It was serendipity or perhaps fate that I was sitting within earshot of my phone...or that I even bothered to check it. I'd missed three calls from MonkeyDad in 30 minutes. When I called back, he told me in tearful gasps the news: his father had died of a heart attack earlier in the day.

There was too much to process too fast. He was a wreck and I was 10 hours away and couldn't do anything for him but cry on the other end of the line. His girlfriend was there...that was good (I hated the thought of him being there alone). Then the logistics -- could I bring the Monkey down to Texas before the weekend? Of course. Did he want me to stay too? Of course. Flights to change. Plans back here to cancel. And an oblivious Monkeyboy vibrating with the excitement of Christmas (Look, Mommy, we got popcorn and movie tickets!!!)...while I wept silently in the dim glow of Christmas lights. It was too much.

Yes, MonkeyDad and I are divorced, but in a very real way, this is still my family. This is my son's family. This was a loss that hit much nearer the bone than I could have anticipated. Paw-Paw (as the grandkids all called him) was a family legend for bad decisions...but he never missed a Sunday of calling MonkeyDad. He never quite managed to stop smoking or drinking or gambling, but when the family finally got into his apartment on Thursday, they found presents for every grandchild already wrapped under the tree...and batches of homemade pralines and peanut brittle ready for distribution. He was the happy hour BS-king and the unfailing bearer of oyster stew every Christmas morning. As frustrating as he could be, he was no small part of this family's tapestry.

Once they confirmed the details, I changed arrangements on my end and began prepping myself and the Monkey for what was coming: long days...lots of cousins...extra helpings of patience all around...and 6+ hours of car travel over a 24-hour period. He had specified that the funeral was to be at the local parish and the burial back in his hometown -- 3 hours away. Even without the emotion, it would have been an exhausting weekend...but add heavy hearts and the Monkey and I were both reeling. Last night, without a trace of color in his little face from physical and emotional exhaustion, he told me he thought he "threw up a little...but swallowed it." I think my 4-year-old got his first case of indigestion.

As for me, I had a little extra reason to mourn. For the first time I realized that the divorce meant that I was, in a sense, losing an extended family. I hadn't seen many of these aunts and uncles and cousins in nearly a decade and visiting with them again made me realize how genuinely fond of them I am. They were all incredibly gracious to me: MonkeyDad's sister invited me to stay for Christmas so that I wouldn't have to spend the day alone. One of the aunts hugged me goodbye after the burial and said she hated for MonkeyDad to lose me...and she was glad to see that he hadn't. Another cousin took the time to comment how impressed she was that we were all so amicable: MonkeyDad, HisGirlfriend, and I...all there together for the family and for the Monkey without a trace of awkwardness. I am so grateful for comments like this -- they remind me that I'm doing ok and that there is a lot in my life for which to be thankful.

I'm finally heading home after almost 10 days of being away. It's Christmas Eve, though in truth it doesn't feel much like it. Tonight, if I can find the energy, I'll toast the lit tree with a glass of wine before a much-needed long winter's nap and maybe make a list of things in my life that I'm grateful for: A Monkeyboy who impresses me every day and makes me proud. A MonkeyDad who understands those things that are truly important. Not one but two families who love and care about me. Friends I can always rely on for support and encouragement. And a perfect pair of black pants that are always there...just in case.


Anonymous said...

Family, friends, black pants, amen.

Anonymous said...

Ohhh, honey. I'm sorry. Ditto towwas and I can't wait to see you and give you a big hug.