Every year Malcolm’s birthday is a benchmark, a gauge, a barometer. Where am I now? What has changed since this day last year? How’s the weather?
I wrestled with myself: Don’t do it, I said.
But I did it. Why?
I don’t know.
Was it because I had extra time on the slantly-lit Sunday afternoon? Or because it was the autumnal equinox? Or maybe because my dad died in February and my son’s birthday would come and go without either of my parents alive? Or maybe it was because, for the first time, one of my daughters was newly pregnant.
I got out the cardboard box (Pandora’s?) holding all the congratulations, all the guarded but hopeful letters, and all the “We’re shocked and devastated” notes. I read several. One, exquisitely written, came from a friend who died this spring. I attended her memorial service in Rhode Island in August.
The box also holds copies of the letters my dad sent to friends and relatives: a chronicle of Malcolm’s stay in three hospitals, his brief time at home, the miracle after his first open heart surgery, (“They’re heading home in a day!”), and the despair when the fix failed and he died in the second. My dad’s words, somehow, hold extra heft–now that he’s dead.
Sniffling, throat taut, I came across a small piece of yellow-lined paper with words typed on my old Olympia: what I read at Malcolm’s memorial service 31 years ago. I don’t think I have seen this slip of paper in decades.
I thanked people for coming to the service; I told them I was unable to talk about Malcolm at that time except to say that I loved him and:
“I feel honored to have known him. I also feel honored to be the daughter of my parents. They’ve given themselves completely.”
Reading that line “They’ve given themselves completely” I crumbled.
That’s what good parents do, isn’t it? They give themselves completely to their children and, if they get the chance, to their children’s children.