The Front Row – A Lesson In Loss
My father has a large family. Every summer my brother and I would be shipped off to our grandparents in a small town in what we called, “lower, slower Delaware.” My father’s family lived on a farm when he was small. My mother was the city girl from Philadelphia. (My parents are the living, breathing version of the Green Acres couple.) As a child, spending the summers in Delaware were never something I looked forward to and as I now realize what a complete pain in the ass I was as a child I’m sure they weren’t too thrilled about getting me there every summer either. One of my father’s uncles said to me during one of those summer visits, “Your brother is your father’s son and you are your mother’s.” As a child I took that to mean that I wasn’t of them and my brother was that I didn’t belong in Delaware or part of their family. As Sondheim wrote, “careful the things you say, children will listen.”
At the synagogue that my father’s family attended, in the “front row” were my Dad’s parents, aunts and uncles when he was small however the recent first death of his generation (my Dad’s first cousin who was six months younger than him, my father being the oldest of his generation of his family) made us all too aware that our parents have now become the “front row.” The generation of my father’s parents, aunts and uncles are almost all gone with the exception of a couple of aunts in their nineties. My father’s generation is now the “front row” and the recent loss has stirred emotions that were expected and at the same time stirred emotions I didn’t expect at all.
Not so oddly I suppose, I’ve found myself revisiting my youth experiences in that small town during the summers of my childhood in my mind since the passing. I remember the cousin who passed. He was a gentle giant to me as a child. He would imitate Donald Duck and was always the one who would put his arm around me when I was crying or what have you and say, “Son, it’s going to be all right.” The story he loved to tell about me was when my cousins and I were all young and he was driving us somewhere. He said, “Do you kids want to drive over the water?” We all screamed that we indeed wanted to go over the water. He said, “Okay, here we go, pick up your feet so that they don’t get wet.” I was the only one who picked his feet up as he drove us over the bridge that indeed was “over” the water. My parents were fortunate to have seen him about a month ago and he told my father to remind me of that story. He loved that story, I loved him, I still love him.
So as my cousins and I prepare ourselves for the inevitability that our parents are now the “front row” I find myself reaching out to them all with my heart. For those summers in our youth created a bond that time and space just don’t break. We will all be the children of the children who sat behind their parents in the “front row” and someday we will become the “front row” and until that time comes I send this out to all the children, nieces and nephews, cousins who feel the cycle of life and death. And when you find yourself faced with loss, I hope you will be grateful as I am to have had someone so extraordinary in my life who I can continue to carry in my heart. Sure, there is grief in my heart but there is also gratitude.
I don’t want to go back to the days of my youth. I’ve always been someone who was focused on the future (sometimes so much so that I made it impossible for myself to enjoy what was happening at the moment for me) but for right now I’m going to instead focus on right now. And right now, I’m so thankful to have had this man in my life. There is no doubt that my father has been the strongest influence in my life on what I think a man can and should be but his uncles and cousins over those summers shaped me too, none more so than Terry. And although I’ll never see his face again, I see it when I close my eyes. I feel him in my heart. I feel his arm around me saying, “Son, it’s going to be all right.” And I finally believe him, something I never did as a child.