Up Front and Personal

A Family Retreat Remembers Mom

by Don Zirkel

It may have been our first serious family meeting led by the children and not their (septuagenarian) parents.
The memorial gathering in our upstate vacation home was so similar, and so different.  It resembled many of the spiritual retreats of our lifetimes – challenges and prayer, silence and sharing, mood music and dialogue, tears and laughter, good food and wine, snacks and desserts (chocolate of course), cameras and camaraderie, memories of yesterday and focus on tomorrow.
But I have never heard of a (family) retreat quite like ours. Timely affirmations and challenges from Mom (chosen from her writings) and Dad and our seven living children.  A soulful group.  Disagreements of course, but not a single serious fight.  Plenty of honest listening, but no raised voices.
Although the umbilical cords were cut decades ago, Re never stopped nourishing her children.  Her contribution at the 2012 retreat was a reflection on our family’s 1973 Thanksgiving Day.  With some nervousness, teens Barbe and Joe and their parents volunteered to chauffeur and interact with special needs adults, and to prepare, serve and scrub pots and pans for their turkey dinner in Brooklyn.
This first year as a widower was made easier by the time invested in preparing The Book.  A great blessing.   I spent hours every day in conversation with Re – reading the writings she saved, enjoying again 5,900 photos from our 59 years of shared glad.
The second year will be different. From Monday to Friday I am alone for 8-10 hours – until Mary and John and Grandson Luke return from work and school. The phone and computer and visits to Mass, doctors and supermarkets help.  Sometimes I am lonely, on rare occasions almost comatose.
But we frequently have dinner together, and the place comes back to life!  I do believe in the Resurrection.  I do believe that love will continue to grow after we have moved on.
It is hard to believe – 12 months since the death of my lover  it is time for reflection.
Each day still continues with morning prayer. I sit at the breakfast table across from Re’s beautiful face.  Now it is just her photo, but her smile still helps me remember what went before and prepare me for what lies ahead.
The Pacificos and O’Connells take such good care of me.  And I tend the colorful clematis which Re planted two years ago.  It is on a new trellis outside our front door – hers and mine.  Like Re and I, it is doing very well, thank you.  Praise the Lord.[hr] Zirkel was Editor of The Tablet from 1968 to 1985.