Wednesday, February 21, 2007

If You Want A Happy Ending...

...It Depends on Where You Stop Your Story.
---Orson Welles

In the year since my Dad died the question I have heard the most is, "How is your mother doing?" For most people, I think it is 70% genuine concern for her, mixed with 30% oblique attempt to find out how I am doing. I have appreciated the question on both levels but still never know how to answer.

This would have been my parents' 40th year of marriage. A marriage that saw each of them assume different roles and responsibilities as circumstances and the vagaries of life warranted. A true partnership on board the good ship Haggis, with rotating skippers (but let's be honest: mostly my Mom!) as life events dictated. I always knew my parents loved each other, but always knew they believed their admonition that "love is not enough." I always knew they relied on each other, but knew my Dad never wanted me to need a man. I always knew they were together forever, but didn't yet know that "together" can take many different forms.

Take today for instance. My Mom and Dad are still together forever, just not physically here on earth. He's my Dad forever, we're joined forever, but togetherness now comes in the form of one-way conversations in my head that still somehow seem to give me answers. Are we happy? I don't know. I think we're happy compared with how we thought we'd be one year on. Is my Mom happy? Without telling her story for her I obviously have to say "No." But neither is she hopeless, devastated or inconsolable. She has called upon the inner strength she's always had to live through the greatest upheaval of her life. She's made it look easy, which is the hardest thing to do, and I'm truly proud of her. I know my Dad is too.

So, is this a happy ending?

In a word, No. But then again, who knows? Orson was right; the determination of a happy ending is dependent on where you stop your story. Something tells me that, although my family's story with my father as the primary protagonist is coming to a close, each of our own separate stories--wherein we carry forward his dreams for us and his grandchildren--is just beginning. Which in and of itself, perhaps in a strange and contradictory way, is a happy ending to my father's life story after all.


Vigilante said...

Writing of this quality extends the story of the author, infinitely.

Emily said...

As an illustration of the above:

Arthur M. Schlesinger's love of reading and writing paid off at school. Upon examining his son's homework, Schlesinger's father (a tenured professor at Harvard) once commented,

"I liked your essay … and know that you must have had fun writing it. There is always a little thrill one gets from saying things well."

In recalling the incident decades later, Schlesinger wrote:

"This last sentence for some reason has lingered in my mind ever since. It remains true."

LA Times.