I hope you enjoy this story-it is not humorous, as most of my blog is, but it was written for my website for Valentine's day/month, and I wanted to share if with my blog visitors. I hope this story warms your heart. :)
A Season For Letting Go
It's been a little over two years since John has passed. I thought it would start getting easier by now, but each day seems lonelier. How I wish it wouldn't have been a week before Christmas. January 15th would have been our 39th anniversary. I've always been thankful that I was hired full time for the management position just two short weeks after John's death. I know it's been good for me, instead of having an extra nine hours a day to stare at the walls and relive the day he left us.
I unlock the door and enter the dark space again, just like every other night after work. Getting out of the restaurant at 7 isn't so bad, but it does seem as if the day is gone when I leave work, since it gets dark so early this time of year. Brr!!! It feels like it's only 50 degrees inside.
I take off my boots and head for the thermostat. It's only 52 degrees in here. Something must be wrong with the furnace.
"Thomas, can you come over and see what's wrong with my furnace? It's only 52 degrees in the house, and I'm not sure how to tell if I need to call a repairman." He says he'll be right over.
My son has always been good to me, and I couldn't have hand picked a better wife for him myself. I don't mention it to Thomas, but her good personality reflects in my granddaughters. I wish John were here to see how much they've grown.Sammy still calls him Papa Bear when she talks about him, and Amanda still carries around the stuffed giraffe he gave her on her 7th birthday. She doesn't mind at all that Raffy is tattered and has stuffing falling out of his tail, and she doesn't care when Sammy teases her for being too old to have a stuffed giraffe. She's thinking about putting him up when she turns 12, but that is still 10 months away, and she'll decide then.
My doorbell rings, and I tell Thomas to come in. Laura and the girls stayed home since the house is so cold, but sent some homemade chicken noodle soup and dinner rolls over for me. Jennifer and Luke are also visiting with their children, and Laura didn't want to leave them alone. Thomas teases that I'm lucky the rolls made it to my house, since Laura limited everyone at home to just two rolls with dinner. Thomas says he wishes she'd make larger batches, and twice as often. I give a half-hearted smile.
Thomas insists I eat the soup while it's warm, and he heads for the basement. I set the soup on the counter, taking just a few small bites while I wait on news about the furnace. I hear a little tinkering downstairs, and hope there's nothing seriously wrong. As the thought is working on my mind, I hear the familiar sound of the furnace kicking in. I'm relieved, and within minutes, the house begins to warm up.
Thomas sits and visits with me for a little while, like he usually does, and he reminds me of the time his father got so angry at the furnace, that he nearly took a hammer to it! The only thing that saved our furnace from the attack was wide-eyed Jennifer, who was seen standing at the bottom of the steps just before the first blow. John picked our little girl up and brought her upstairs to where Thomas and I were reading a book. He sat down beside her and rubbed his forehead in shame, while explaining to his 6 year old that his temper had gotten the best of him, and admitting that attacking the furnace with a hammer would not actually fix it. John took a 10 minute break before returning to the moody furnace. Another 15 minutes had gone by, and we began to feel warmth again. Thomas and I laughed at the memory all over again, seeing a grown man humbled by his 6 year old doll. We don't share too many laughs together, but this memory always tickles me.
The girls have to get up early for school the next morning, so Thomas wants to spend time with them before they head to bed. I thank him for his help, and tell him to be careful going home. I watch the car pull out of the driveway, and my thoughts go back to my little Jennifer...
She was such a bright little girl. She loved to please us, and was the model child. Thomas used to think we favored her, but it really wasn't true. We just needed to work on a few problem areas with him, which took some strict discipline, at a time when Jennifer was still so compliant.
When Jennifer entered high school, something changed. I realize most teenagers go through stages of rebellion, but she seemed to take things a step further. It wasn't just coming home 10 minutes later than curfew, or back talking to me when she didn't like the rules. It was the times when she didn't come home at all that had my stomach in knots, and knowing that at 16 years old, she was only one and a half short years away from adulthood, and my influence would have no effect on her whatsoever when she no longer had to live under my roof. Thankfully Thomas had entered adulthood as a responsible young man. He met Laura when he moved on campus, and married her shortly after graduation.
Jennifer had several friends that I adored, but we saw less and less of them once she entered high school. New friends started coming home with her. She often headed to her room without introducing them, and almost acted as if I was not even there. Her glaring cold eyes were nearly a confrontation, daring me to say a word. So often I had judged other parents who would talk about their child's rebellious stage, but then it was my turn, and I understood why they would put up with so many things. Just knowing your child is safe at home will cause you to allow things you never thought you would.
My mind went back to the night I received the phone call from the mall's security office. Jennifer had been caught shoplifting, and they wanted her father and me to pick her up. The ride home was quiet. John was trying to figure out the right choice of action, and I was...I was realizing that I had to admit the truth about my daughter and her habit of stealing. I had never told John about the $35 that came up missing from my wallet, and how Jennifer went on a rampage when I asked her if she had borrowed it without telling me. I never dreamed I would see the day my own daughter would hit me. And that she never showed any remorse made the pain sting all the more, even though she never did it again. I was afraid to comment on her new clothes when she would come for breakfast, knowing that she did not have the money to afford so many new outfits. It was partly because I was afraid of her reaction, and partly because I was afraid of the truth. I had been living in denial for several months. And I had never mentioned it to John. I could feel the defiance and rebellion from the back seat the rest of the way home. Jennifer jumped out of the car and headed straight for her room once we got home. John and I sat in silence for a moment, and he assured me that he would think long and hard about what we should do.
Neither of us could sleep that night, John knowing that some decisions needed to be made, and me knowing that some confessions needed to be made-to John. I knew there was not going to be an ideal time to tell John about my denial, and Jennifer raising her hand to me. I sat up in our bed and began to cry, admitting to John that I was aware of a serious problem with Jennifer before that night. John was always so good to me-I never doubted for a moment how much he loved me. It troubled me that I could feel his anger in the silent, pitch black bedroom. He never reached to touch my hand and comfort me when I was sobbing, and he did not speak for several minutes after I had poured out my heart to him. As calm and quietly as if we were in the library, he asked, "Why didn't you tell me?" And I answered, "Because I was afraid."
The next morning, John drank his coffee in silence before leaving for work. My heart ached, just wishing he would give me a wink and a smile. I always gathered strength for my day, knowing John loved me so much and believed in me. But that morning, I hung my head in shame, wiping the occasional tear before he saw it. I had broken his trust.
"Have a good day, Dear", he said when he left that morning. There was no sarcasm in his voice, but the usual warmth was not there either. When John pulled out of the driveway, my tears flowed without reserve.
Jennifer came in the kitchen 15 minutes later, grabbed an apple, and left without saying a word. I was glad because I didn't feel strong enough to carry on a normal conversation that morning, knowing that we had huge issues that needed dealt with.
I cleaned the up the kitchen from last night's dinner, and then sat in the chair by the window in the living room. I remember asking God to please make everything alright. I usually had the house to myself everyday during the week, but today the house felt so empty. The hollow feeling replaced the warm, family feeling I was so accustomed to. I longed for that closeness the three of us shared after Thomas left for college. So many nights of just hanging out as a family, each of us sprawled out on separate pieces of furniture in the living room with blankets and chocolates, each with our own book to read. And the other nights of having company, playing games, or going for an evening walk. I felt like a thief had violated our lives.
Jennifer usually got home from school an hour before John. I remember like it was yesterday that John got home first that particular day. I waited for him to open up the conversation about Jennifer, but he only briefly mentioned that he would like to talk, all 3 of us, over dinner. We made small talk until the meal was ready, but Jennifer still had not come home from school by the time we sat down for the meal. The empty table setting was like a blaring, neon sign that screamed, "You're losing control of her!" John talked a little about his day, while I just pushed my food around my plate a little. He knew I was too anxious about the situation to have much of an appetite, but he had finished his meal and didn't want us to just sit at the table with nothing being accomplished. "I don't think that it will do any good to talk before Jenny gets here, so why don't you clean up the dishes while I make a few phone calls? The car was acting up again, so I'm going to have to take it back to the garage this week." We stood up from the table, and John hugged me for a long time. He kissed me on the forehead and headed to his office. I was always so thankful that he was a man of strength, helping calm the biggest storms I faced over the years.
I still cry when I think of that night. It was the night that changed my life, and all of my walls of stability, and all of my supposed assurances crumbled around me. Jennifer never came home. We waited until around 9:00 that evening to start making phone calls. Since she didn't introduce me to most of her new friends, I mostly had the phone numbers to her old group of friends. I mostly learned that, yes, she was in school today, and was even at the teenage hangout near the mall around 7:00, but none of her old friends knew where she might be now.
When 11:00 came around, John and I headed to bed. I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep, but staying up wasn't going to do me any good either. On the way to the bed, I glanced in Jennifer's bedroom, as if I hoped she would there. Of course, she wasn't. The situation became so much more real when I saw the condition of her room-clothes pouring from her drawers and papers scattered everywhere. When I entered the bathroom for my nightly routine, I noticed her toothbrush was missing.
The knots in my stomach were unbearable. As I headed to the bedroom, I could see John sitting on the edge of the bed with his face in his hands. He already knew-I didn't have to tell him that Jennifer wasn't coming home. I wrapped my arms around John, and we both sobbed.
John woke me up a little earlier than our normal waking time. He wanted to talk for a few minutes before he had to leave for work. We could call the police and force Jennifer to come home, or send her to a juvenile detention center, but John felt the best thing to do would be to wait. Just wait. He asked me to just call Thomas and Laura and let them know that their little sister had run away from home.
The next several weeks were somewhat of a blur. I tried to find things to do that would keep me busy. I cleaned Jennifer's room up, so that I could at least pretend part of the time that everything was fine. I had lost several pounds, but my appetite slowly returned, as I began to accept the truth-Jennifer wasn't coming back.
Thomas was a great strength for John and me. We were so thankful for a son that called regularly to tell us that everything would be fine. Four and a half months after Jennifer left home, Thomas called and wanted to come over after John and I had dinner.
The tears ran down my face as Thomas told us that he had found his little sister, and that she had been at his house for the past 3 days. He chuckled slightly at his detective work, and admitted to pressuring Jennifer's friends into telling him where she was. Starting with her former school friends, he investigated and intimidated them into giving him all the information they knew. He joked that being on the high school football team had its lasting benefits. Jennifer had been bouncing from couch to couch in the little town of Queen Valley, 10 miles from our own little town of Harper. She was only staying with adult friends who had their own apartments. She didn't want any parents of friends still living at home turning her in. When Thomas finally caught up with her, there was only a brief confrontation with her latest couch owner, which ended with the woman telling Jennifer she couldn't stay at all. She handed Thomas Jennifer's small bag of belongings, and all but pushed them out the door.
Thomas ordered Jennifer into his car, she complied. They headed to Thomas' house, and along with Laura, came up with a plan. Jennifer could stay with Thomas and Laura, as long as she got a job, saved money in a bank account for an apartment and car, followed the house rules and curfew times, and went to weekly counseling for her shoplifting, anger and lying issues. In return, she could stay in a safe place, a stable environment, until she turned 18. Jennifer agreed. Thomas wanted her to call us, but she was not willing to do that just yet, and he didn't force her to. When he told us this, my heart sank. If I couldn't hug her, I wanted to at least hear her voice. Thomas asked me to just be patient-she was in a safe place, and he was going to do his best to help her move past the rebellion.
We received frequent calls of Jennifer's progress and setbacks, but even 9 months after moving in with Thomas and Laura, she still did not make contact with us. We were glad to hear that she found a decent job, and that her counseling was going well. She had stopped shoplifting altogether, her anger had subsided, and lying was no longer second nature, although she was caught occasionally lying to get her own way. Jennifer was doing great with saving money, and was well on her way to being able to afford a car. Both my son and daughter-in-law felt very hopeful that Jennifer would completely overcome these issues. I didn't intend for it to happen, but the more I heard about Jennifer putting her life back together, the more resentful and bitter I started to become. How could she be putting her life back together when she destroyed mine? Why couldn't she comply with us the way she did with Thomas? How could she continue to break my heart by not wanting to talk to me? The more that time went on, the less I wanted to hear how she was doing. I didn't tell Thomas, although I'm sure he could sense it a little bit in our phone conversations.
Two more months had gone by. One day the phone rang at home, and when I looked at caller ID, I saw that it was Thomas' house. I knew he and Laura were at work. The call had to be coming from Jennifer. So much time had passed; I didn't know what I would even say to my daughter. I didn't answer the call, and she didn't leave a message on the answering machine. She called again that night, and John had answered the phone. He spoke so softly and tenderly, grasping hold of every little bit he could reach of his daughter. They talked for several minutes, and I quickly found something to do. Since I had done some deep cleaning that day, I whispered to John that I needed to get a shower, and hurried away before he could stop me.
John couldn't wait to share his excitement with me, and to tell me Jennifer wanted to talk to me too. I told him I was happy to see things working out with them, but I wouldn't be calling her back. John's face dropped. I went to the kitchen for a light snack. John didn't join me.
We received several invitations to Thomas and Laura's for dinner, but I always found an excuse to stay home. I wasn't feeling well, or I had too much to do. The first time I told John I didn't want to go, he stayed home too, and our evening was very quiet. Most evenings were rather quiet when John would come home from visiting Jennifer. He used to walk in the house with a hopeful expression on his face, hoping I would be open to discussing how things were going. I never did ask, and he stopped hoping. One night, he decided to tell me how he felt, shortly before we headed to bed. "You know, you treat your own daughter like she's the other woman in my life! I feel like I have to tip-toe around you if I want to go see her, and she only calls me at work or on my cell phone because she's afraid you'll be the one to answer the phone at home. You're her mother, Ann! She's not your competitor, she's your daughter! I feel like you want me to choose between you!" I assured him that I did not, and did my best to act more pleasant when he would come home from his visits with her, even though I still never asked how things went.
Two weeks before Jennifer's 18th birthday, a letter came addressed to me. Her handwriting hadn't changed a bit, and the return address was Thomas and Laura's house. I did not open the envelope. I set it on the counter and headed upstairs to do my ironing before John came home. A short time later, John appeared in the laundry room doorway, holding the opened envelope in his hand. "She's moving to Smithsville...with a friend from work.....Thomas has met the other girl and thinks she's a good influence." He looked up from the letter. "You can still reconcile, Ann. She wants to. Pages one and two of this letter are a very sincere apology." Smithsville was 120 miles from Harper. I was surprised to hear that she'd be moving so far. But Jennifer had wounded me beyond words, and I just didn't feel like trying to rebuild a relationship with her right now. John went to Thomas and Laura's house to help Jennifer pack and to see her off. He was relieved to see for himself that her friend, Wendy, was what Thomas had described her to be.
Every other week, John and Jennifer would meet at a halfway point for lunch. I knew to expect him to be gone every other Saturday, and he knew to expect me not to ask how their visit was. I would hear him on the phone with Thomas occasionally, bragging about how much Jennifer had "grown" since she moved, or talking to him about the rare occasions when Thomas and Laura got to go along for the visit. I knew it disappointed John that I wasn't involved, but I let my sensitivity to John's feelings grow numb when it came to Jennifer.
Every month, Jennifer would still send at least one letter or card addressed to me, but usually I tossed them in trash before John could come home and lecture me for not reading it.
It was about 10 months after Jennifer moved that she sent another card, but the envelope looked different. It appeared to be an invitation. I decided not to throw this particular card away, and left it on the counter for John to open when he came home. Even though I didn't want to build a relationship with her, I did hope that she would do fine in life. I was hoping the card was an invitation to her graduation-I always secretly hoped she would still take the time to graduate someday.
When John opened the card just before dinner, a slow smile appeared, and turned into a soft chuckle. Suddenly John's face began to beam. "She's getting married....I believe she's made a good choice....Luke is a very good man."
I was stunned. Married? I looked at John as if to ask why he didn't tell me. And he looked back at me as if to say, "Because you didn't want to know."
A month after the wedding, Jennifer sent us pictures. John beamed as he looked at them, and after dinner while cleaning the kitchen, I secretly glanced at them. My daughter looked radiant, and her dress was beautiful. For the first time I saw what my new son-in-law looked like. John never looked so proud, standing next to this lovely bride, and Thomas and Laura looked nearly as happy as they had in their own wedding pictures. That night when John headed for bed, I told him I'd be up shortly. I secretly glanced at the pictures again, and stood in the kitchen and cried for several minutes. There is no rewind button in life, but if there was, I think I would have done things differently. I missed the most special day of my daughter's life.
I can't really share how the next several years seemed to pass so quickly. Amanda and Sammy came along, and I was the doting grandmother. Thomas and Laura only lived 10 minutes from us, so I got to see my granddaughters regularly. Jennifer also had children-two girls and a boy. She sent pictures of them regularly, and John had them hanging all over his office. He would go to Thomas and Laura's house every Christmas, and occasionally head to Smithsville for Thanksgiving with Jennifer and Luke. In the summer months, the family would have a get together about once a month, since a 2 hour drive really isn't all that bad. Everyone always gave me an open invitation, but I declined month after month, year after year. The family would get together, and I would sit home and pretend to be content. I couldn't admit that bitterness had become a habit. I didn't know how to change things. So much time had passed, and I just couldn't admit that pride in being the victor was what held me hostage.
I started working again as a waitress, and was offered a manager position, but I turned it down. I really only wanted part time work. I enjoyed being home, but knew it was good to get out sometimes, so I limited myself to 20 working hours a week. I was always home when John got home. That was how we had always done it, and it was a fine routine that I wanted to keep.
John's company was selling out to a larger corporation, and offered him a nice financial package for retiring early. He took up fishing, and enjoyed sharing Saturday mornings on the lake with Amanda and Sammy. If Jennifer came to visit, John and Thomas would take all 5 of the children to the lake.
Just three short years ago, John started experiencing indigestion, weakness and nausea, and the doctor confirmed our worst fear. John had stomach cancer. The horrible disease took its toll quickly, and in 11 very short months, John was gone.
I didn't know how to knock down the walls between Jennifer and me, but I couldn't keep her from visiting her father. He often wasn't well enough to leave the house anymore. Thomas and Jennifer came to see their father regularly, and the grandchildren still enjoyed John's story-telling while he was able. Most days they would visit, I would find excuses to be in different parts of the house. The visits were often just an hour or two long, and then John needed to rest. I was nice to Jennifer's children, but I really didn't know them. They called me Grandma, but I kept them a distance from my heart.
At the funeral, I was reserved and quiet, as I had a right to be. I had just lost my strong tower, the man I was able to lean on for so many years. Most people knew me as a bit private, so it wasn't obvious to them that I was not only grieving the loss of my husband, but that I was also regretting that I didn't know my daughter anymore, on a day like this, when we couldn't comfort each other, and we should have been able to.
My boss talked me into the management position after John died, and asked me to start 2 weeks from the week of the funeral. He knew it seemed sudden, but he also knew that it would do me good to keep my mind occupied. The grieving process would happen whether I worked more hours or not, but having something to occupy my mind and keep me from sitting in an empty house most of the time would be a comforting distraction.
Jennifer sent a few cards after the funeral, and I opened them when they came. Instead of feeling her sincere words, I felt like these cards were written to someone else. Who is this woman writing to me? I don't even know her-how can she talk as if I'm her friend? I never responded, but I knew Thomas would tell her how I was doing. Six months after the funeral, Jennifer's cards stopped coming.
My mind comes back to the present, and I realize it's almost 9:30. I think, "Where did the time go?", and then the thought really hits me hard. Where did the time go?
In two short years, I will be 60. Neither of my parents lived past 64. I've never been one to pray much, but I suddenly felt an urgency in my heart, for what, I'm not sure. I get down on my knees and begin to talk to God. I don't know how long I've been here, but I feel completely drained. I've completely poured my soul out, keeping nothing back. I tell Him about all of my heartaches, my fears, my worries, and when I still feel little relief, I talk to God about Jennifer. My words become unintelligible as my sobs flow uncontrollably. I know I'm not making sense, but strongly felt that He knew every word I said.
I don't know how long I prayed, but I wake up in the morning on the floor beside my chair. The clock reads 9:00, and I head upstairs for a shower. Today is my day off, and I'm glad because I feel like I've been beat up. I look in the mirror, and my eyes are swollen half shut. I hope the shower refreshes me enough to make the puffiness go down.
I eat a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, and tell the Lord about a decision I made for today. I asked Him to give me strength.
I get dressed and fix my hair. Once the car is warmed up, I get in, take a deep breath, and head for Thomas and Laura's house. I know they are at work, but Luke and Jennifer aren't planning to leave for another day. I'm scared.
I pull into the driveway, and sit in the car for a few minutes after I shut it off. I am trying to gather my courage to approach the house. I take a deep breath and walk to the front porch.
I ring the doorbell, and look around nervously while waiting for someone to answer the door. I hear children inside-I wonder if Laura's children will recognize me? Nobody answers the door. I ring the doorbell again. I hear adult voices and active children, but no footsteps coming to answer the door.
My heart sank. I had completely stretched myself out on a limb, all to have the feelings of rejection of a 16 year old daughter rushing back to me. I feel the walls being quickly rebuilt in my heart, and know that this is the end of our relationship for good. Jennifer has rejected me, after all of these years that I have rejected her. There won't be any more attempts on her part to contact me. No more phone calls, no more letters. I stifle my tears as I begin to try to hide the pain from myself. I'd done this so well for so many years, and today will be like all of those other days.
The cold wind prompts me to head for my car. I turn and hold my scarf tight around my face, and am almost to my car. I hear a small noise.
I turn around. Jennifer is standing in the doorway. I see the glisten of a tear on her cheek. I begin to walk toward the house again. Jennifer begins to walk toward me with outstretched arms. It was never easy for me to just reach out and hug someone, especially a stranger, but I make the effort, even though I feel very stiff and awkward. Jennifer wraps her arms around me as if she is hugging her best friend whom she hadn't seen in years. My own stiffness disappears, and I hug her tightly and begin to sob.
We stand in the cold for several minutes-Jennifer has to be colder than me-she only has a sweater on, while I have my winter coat on. I try to get my crying under control, and mention to Jennifer that she must be freezing. She light-heartedly says, "I don't care!", laughs, and invites me in the house. Luke wastes no time burying the past-he hurries over and says, "Hi Mom!", as he give me a welcoming hug. Luke and Jennifer even call the children into the room and tell them that their grandmother is here. When I see their beautiful little faces, my heart is flooded with regrets. I try not to cry, but tears keep sneaking out of the sides of my eyes. Jennifer looks at me and says, "Mom, the past is in the past." She hands me some tissues, and gives my shoulder a quick squeeze. "Hannah and I were just getting ready to play Candyland. Do you want to play?" Luke Jr. is still too young to play, and Katie wants to play house with her dollies. I say yes, and we head to Thomas' family room.
Thomas and Laura get home from work, and I stay the rest of the day. Jennifer cooks dinner-I never knew she always liked my spaghetti sauce and mastered the recipe!
I go home around 8:30, and my heart feels so warm. I'm going to an empty house, but I no longer feel that haunting emptiness, or his roommate, bitterness-the thieves that had moved in and robbed me of many years with Jennifer, and threatened my relationships with John and Thomas' family.
Jennifer's family left a week and a half ago, and Valentine's Day is tomorrow. I feel bad that I was a little late in getting the stuffed monkeys in the mail to Hannah, Lukie and Katie, but they are on their way!
My doorbell rings. I'm not expecting company, since I have to leave for work in an hour. I open the door and a very large bouquet of red roses is there to welcome me. I thank the delivery man, and close the door. There must be 3 dozen roses in this bouquet! I search for a card and find it tucked toward the middle of the bouquet. This beautiful arrangement is from Jennifer and her family. I smile and feel like I'm reliving the wonderful day we spent at Thomas' house when they were here.
I feel like Valentine's Day has just taken on a new meaning for me. It is no longer going to be a painful reminder that my husband-my best friend, is no longer here, but instead, a holiday to remind me of the revival of love.
I don't need to leave home for another 40 minutes, so I do what I wanted to do so many years ago-I head for the phone to call my daughter.