By Louise Ure
Back when Ken Bruen and I shared Tuesday blogging responsibilities, he sent me a long white feather in the mail. “When a white feather crosses your path,” he wrote, “it means your guardian angel is nearby and watching over you.”
I found another white feather last week … a figurative one this time. It was a small miracle in my life.
Apologies to my Seattle friends for not telling you earlier, but I’ve been up in your fair city for the last three weeks moving my father-in-law into an assisted living center. Bruce’s death had undone him, “purely worn me down” as he described it, and he chose to move to a simpler existence.
That meant that I had three weeks to sell his possessions, get him moved and get the condo ready to go on the market.
He is a big bear of a man, with a face like George C. Scott and the heart of a Teamster. He spent forty years driving a laundry truck delivering linens and uniforms to restaurants, garages and hospitals. Today he has bad knees and a colostomy bag, and pores over every word in the paper looking for signs that his America is still alive.
Cleaning out the condo was not easy. Bruce’s older brother still had three rooms of belongings there, even though he’d long ago moved into his own apartment. And he’s a hoarder. Following the advice from a psychologist, we involved the brother in the decision making on each and every item. Does it go to Goodwill? Does it go to your apartment? Does it go to storage? There were one thousand shirts. Three hundred and sixty pairs of pants. Three thousand CDs. Each decision was protracted. Each item discussed.
Pat and Karen, Bruce’s lifelong Seattle friends, were unflagging in their energy and support, providing physical labor, local resources and expert advice. Karen, an antiques dealer in the city, sifted through every piece of jewelry, every Christmas bobble, every cookbook to determine what she could sell for him and what should go to charity. They made so many runs to Goodwill and the shredding company that the proprietors knew the name of their dog.
My father-in-law, Adolph, sat sad and calm as we loaded boxes, willing but unready to rush into this change.
There were dozens of boxes and bags of papers for the shredder. Old tax records. Paperwork from the estates of his sister-in-law and his wife, dead ten years now. Christmas letters from relatives in North Dakota two decades ago. Birthday cards from Bruce and his brother when they were kids.
There wasn’t room for all the papers at Ade’s new place, but he wasn’t willing to send them to the shredder until we’d had one final look. And so we did. We went through each page of the old tax records and he told me stories about that year, what new car he’d bought and where they went on vacation. We read old Christmas letters and he recounted the story of the son of that cousin, a saddlemaker, and how he lost his fingers when they got caught in the reins of a plow horse. We looked at old photographs and he remembered the night he’d first met his wife, Marian, and how she was supposed to be the blind date for the other guy.
Then came the miracle, the white feather wafting down in front of me.
I opened one old condolence card from April 2000 and read that “as a symbol of prayer, a votive light burns for Marian Goronsky at the Benedictine Monastery in Tucson, Arizona.” Funny, I hadn’t known that Adolph had friends in Tucson.
Then I recognized the handwriting. It was from my mother.
They’d only met once, on that day in 1985 when Bruce and I celebrated our marriage with a giant party in Tucson. The Goronskys drove three days to get there and arrived feeling like alien creatures in the dun-colored desert landscape. Tequila was new to them. The mariachis at the party did not sound like the Lithuanian music they knew.
My father died when I was sixteen, so it was up to my mother to welcome these new additions to the family and they became friends as well as new relations. Fifteen years later, when Marian Goronsky died unexpectedly only twelve hours after successful knee surgery, my mother sent a condolence card.
What she didn’t know is that she was sending it to me.
“Let me share what I know about losing a spouse,” she wrote. “A Greek writer wrote that ‘an excess of grief for the dead is madness, for it is an injury to the living and the dead know it not.’ I don’t know if it’s true, but at least that thought has helped me a lot through the years.”
It’s been sixteen months since I heard my mother’s voice. Sixteen months since I felt her arms around me.
Last week she found a way to be with me again. Thank you, Mom. It will help me, too.