Friday, December 23, 2016

On Christmas: "Are They a Couple?"

Four words. A simple question, posed innocently and sincerely. But what lay behind that simple question!

My four younger children (the "Quads") and I had sat down to watch "Yours, Mine and Ours" last night - a 1968 comedy about a widower (Henry Fonda) with ten children who meets and eventually marries a widow (Lucille Ball) with eight children. I have watched the movie at least a half-dozen times over the years with my older children, but this was the first time I had watched it with the Quads. I thought it would be a nice "holiday" thing to do.

We weren't five minutes into the film when my twelve-year-old son asked, "What's the point to this movie?" Ummm, I think there's a lot that I could say about that question, but I'll move on.

A few minutes later, we were watching the scene where Henry Fonda brings his best friend, Van Johnson, back to his house for a drink. As the two men enter Fonda's living room full of his children, my fourteen-year-old son asked, "Are they a couple?"

My first reaction was to laugh, heartily. "No, Aaron. This was 1968. They're just friends." He smiled, pretending to know what I meant, and I let it go. 

But then the import of Aaron's simple question sank in. He sincerely believed it was not implausible for Henry Fonda and Van Johnson to be a gay couple who, together, had all these children. After all, had he not witnessed just that for the past five years? I have ten children. Aaron had lived being part of a family that featured two gay dads. It seemed natural to him that the two men in the movie could be like Mark and me.

That moment made my day. It conveyed to me the lasting impact that the 4-1/2 years Mark and I had together has had and will have on the lives of my children. It was, in a way, a Christmas present to me at a time that I needed one.

For, despite my preparations and in spite of how far I've come in the grieving process since Mark died last spring, I have found these past few days difficult. Grief, it seems, has a way of arising afresh, even after all one has done to absorb its blows, even after one is sure that one is no longer susceptible to its barbs.

I had been doing absolutely fine until this past week. I felt good about my preparations for the holidays. I enjoyed an open house that I hosted this past Sunday, laughing with friends old and new. I was very philosophical about the approaching holidays: after all, I told myself, Mark never really liked Christmas anyway, though he had warmed to it during our five Christmases together.

Then, on Tuesday afternoon, I picked up the Quads after school, and their presence at this time of the year seemed to highlight anew, in a particularly poignant way, Mark's absence. Such, I guess, is the power of the holidays. I have, for example, realized this past week how much I miss being able to buy or make a special present for the person I am in love with, and I have realized how much I miss receiving a gift from that person. There will be no such gifts this year, and that, I realized, left a hole in my heart and made me sad.

Aaron's simple question, so sincerely put, replaced some of that sadness with happiness. I realized that part of Mark will always reside in each of my children; that what we shared together will always be in their hearts and minds. And that is truly a gift. 

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