The People We Love
On January 22, 2007, an intoxicated driver turned a corner and hit my parents. They were crossing the street to attend an evening church service. My mother died in the road. My father struggled for six weeks to recover and died just short of his 89th birthday. Before the crash, he was in great shape, and he and my mother still lived on their own and volunteered in the community. But Dad’s injuries were just too severe.
My Uncle Irvin lived in Pennsylvania and couldn’t travel to Illinois for the funerals because he was ill. When I visited the following fall, he told me stories about he and my dad growing up. Sometimes he just sighed and said, “I miss Francis.” I said I missed my dad, too. My aunt told me she felt worse for me than my brothers because I’m alone. She meant that I am single, while my brothers are married.
It seems odd to say I feel orphaned at 43, but sometimes I do. All the same, I don’t feel alone. Throughout my mother’s wake and funeral, my friend Adela held my hand. And when cousins from Pennsylvania came in for Dad’s funeral, on one day’s notice, Adela made a casserole that fed twelve. My friend Steve loaned me his car every day (I live in downtown Chicago and don’t own one myself) so I could drive from work to the hospital. Then, knowing how exhausted I was, he took a cab each evening to meet me and drive me home. My niece Michelle was working full time at an office and stage managing a play at night nowhere near the hospital. Whenever she could, she came, bringing her stage manager’s backpack with things we couldn’t get in the cafeteria — herbal tea, peanut butter crackers, cinnamon gum. My nephew Dustin called the prosecutor for updates on the charges against the driver and wrote in newspaper blogs about how he felt about the crash and losing his grandparents.
Another friend attended criminal court with me. After each court date, we got cookies at a coffeehouse a few blocks from the courthouse. A river flowed past the back of it. We watched that river through every season – frozen in winter, sparkling in spring and summer, choppy and gray in the fall, frozen again when the case finally ended and the driver, who had two previous DUIs, was sentenced to twelve years.
When most people ask an adult, “Do you have family?” they mean, “Are you married?” or “Do you have children of your own?” By the usual societal definition, I have no family.
But to me, family means the people you love who love you. Family means those who share the good times and stand with you through the dark ones.
I believe in family.
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