Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Love Story

Dear Ellie,

I've been working on a letter for you that is a little bit complicated.  It's about your mother and I.  I want to say that it is about romantic love, but that would be an oversimplification.  Before you read it, though, I thought I'd show you a story I wrote a few years back on the subject.  Maybe it could be a good primer.  As it happens, I don't think real love is the kind of thing we see in stories or movies.  Real love, the best kind of love, is a little bit weird.  And sometimes misunderstood by those outside of it.


I was ten when Mom died.  Dad didn't go to the funeral.  He never explained why.  Not to me or my sister or my grandparents or anyone.  He organized the memorial and the reception and then waited at a nearby coffee shop while it all took place. 

It remained a mystery in our family why he did what he did, but there was no shortage of resentment-driven hypotheses as to why.  At least, on my mother's side, which was basically everyone.  My extended family tree was pruned to a nub on my father's half but thick and tangled on my mother's: a scraggly mass, crudely trimmed by divorce with second and third marriages grafted on haphazardly.  In that mire there was a festering nest of distaste for Dad.  His absence from the funeral only made opinions worse.

"Does the guy have any grief?!" slurred my Uncle Ian, understandably tipsy, unaware that myself and my sister could hear.  "Did he ever even care about her at all?!"

No one at the funeral defended Dad.  Still, despite the low toned mutters of agreement, everyone knew the accusation was false.  After all, disapproval aside, my Mom and Dad had a marriage that every other couple in the family lacked.  They were the happy ones.  Best friends.  The one's that never quarreled or hissed at each other at family gatherings or complained to friends about one another's shortcomings.  Fifteen years into their marriage, they’d still held hands and passionately kissed, privately and in public.

Mom and Dad had fallen in love and never fell out.   

This simple fact only deepened the mystery of his absence at the funeral, but gave me faith that maybe my Dad's decision was the right one: to sit at a coffee shop and sip on a latte while every other person that loved my mother was saying goodbye.                 

It took me awhile after Mom's death to realize that my parents had been a little bit odd in the eyes of most people, especially my aunts and uncles.  For instance, it was common for my mother to stand up in the middle of a restaurant, mid meal, to invite Dad to dance amidst the tables.  Or they would leave a spontaneous poem about their meal on a napkin, right next to the tip.

This oddness between them had been around long before I was born.

When they first met in college, Dad would bring Mom obtuse gifts: a half empty bottle of rare vintage wine; an antique typewriter ribbon; an obsolete map of the USA with only 44 states in the Union.  Basically, he gave her the kinds of things that took a great amount of effort to get one's hands on, but were otherwise completely worthless.  Whatever the appeal, it worked.  Immediately after meeting, they were inseparable.

They got married after 5 years of dating, but no one figured it out until my Aunt Jennifer saw a ring on Mom's finger.  The two had been wed by a hunched-back notary public at the local court house and they celebrated by buying ice cream for an assemblage of random strangers at a desert stand across the street.  All three of my aunts were outraged and blamed Dad for robbing Mom of a proper wedding.

They blamed Dad for a lot more, too.  For instance, they blamed Dad for Mom’s quirkiness, as if she had caught it from him like a bad habit.  They blamed him for making her not like them.  For taking her away from them to a psychological world of his making.  But she’d always been like him, whether they wanted to admit it or not.  And so, in a way, that world was their world.  The oddness of my mother and father was intimate and mutual, like an inside joke to which only they were privy to the meaning of the punch line.

Maybe that’s why they always laughed at social convention, not because they shunned it, but because often times it only got in the way of spontaneous moments of happiness and joy.  Moments, like the spontaneous urge to dance and be near one another.  Or to share the experience of an exquisite meal with a stranger.  Or to go on a journey to find an exotic gift of the type that has never been given before.  Or forgo a wedding--- a lavish celebration in their own honor--- so that its brightness wouldn’t drown out the luminosity of every beautiful day.

I know now that Uncle Ian was wrong.  My father most certainly grieved.  He grieved more deeply than anyone.  But to attend my mother’s funeral would have been to listen to the reinvention of my mother's memory.  To watch as her family shrouded her in the virtues they held dear.  To be forced to forgive the things they saw in her as faults, but that he adored.  To grieve like they grieved.

To attend my mother's funeral would fly in the face of what my mother and father were.  So instead, he chose to grieve in the way that they lived.  And I can think of no better way for him to honor her memory. 


  1. I can't explain how these words have helped me. I also didn't go to an important funeral and could never articulate why. Nobody else questioned me but i have asked myself often. Thank you is all i can say to you.

    1. You're welcome! I've often found that the process of grieving is best served when done in some measure of solitude so that you can have a more intimate understanding of your own thoughts. I'm glad that this story helped you.