“You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.”
~ Desmond Tutu
February 13, 2012
Ali opened the door and practically fainted into her mother’s outstretched arms. To her own surprise, Ali immediately broke into tears, which turned into sobs that coursed through her whole body. The two women stood in the doorway, silently embracing, then together slowly sank to the doorstep. Still, Ali’s sobbing continued. It broke Peggy’s heart to know that there were no words to console her daughter. Losing her granddaughter and son-in-law was devastating enough for her; she could not imagine the pain Ali must be feeling. Peggy sent a silent prayer of gratitude to the heavens for thus far sparing her the pain of burying a child.
Ali had lost an argument with her family two days earlier. She insisted that she was fine in the house by herself. They insisted that she needed emotional support in the days leading up to the funeral—and they were determined to provide it.
Martin, luggage in tow, walked up to find the two women in a heap on the stoop, still entwined in each other’s arms. They seemed totally unaware of his presence. He told himself he was just being practical when he detoured to the back door and let himself in. After all, he couldn’t very well jump over them with suitcases in hand. But the truth was that when he saw them, he felt very near to crying himself, and that wouldn’t help anyone.
Chloe and Nathan were scheduled to arrive in time to join Ali and their parents for a family dinner. Chloe and her husband, Roger, thought it best if he stayed home with their infant twins.
Eventually, Peggy and Ali made their way to the sofa in the living room. Martin built a fire in the fireplace and put on a pot of water for tea. When he opened the refrigerator, he found it overflowing with casseroles, desserts, fruit, and beverages that friends had obviously brought over. Part of him had been hoping the fridge would be empty so he would have an excuse to escape to the grocery store if the evening got to be too painful for him to bear. As much as he loved his daughter and wanted to help comfort her, he was not particularly adept at showing the tenderness he felt. Peggy, on the other hand, seemed able to channel Mother Teresa in these situations.
Martin silently served the tea along with some crackers and cheese, knowing that it would likely all go untouched. He thought about excusing himself but realized it wasn’t necessary—the women were too preoccupied to notice whether he was there or not. Relieved, Martin slipped out the back door and disappeared into the garage. He might not be good at hand-holding, but he was a passable auto mechanic. If he couldn’t console his daughter emotionally, he could at least ensure that she was safe physically—at least while driving—by giving her car a once-over.
Ali let out an audible sigh and squeezed her mother’s hand. Neither of them had said a word since Peggy arrived. She knew her daughter well enough to know that she would talk when she was ready. Until then, silence was more powerful and comforting than any words she might offer. Besides, once Nathan and Chloe arrived, the opportunity for quiet solace would be lost.
Finally, Ali stood up and wandered around the room that had been the hub of her small family’s life. She fingered the framed photos on the mantle, re-shelved the novel that Isaac had been reading, took Zoe’s iPod from its dock and scrolled through the playlist. The titles made her smile.
- Fireflies – Owl City
- Some Nights – Fun
- Moves Like Jagger – Maroon 5
- Paradise – Coldplay
- Chattanooga Choo Choo – Glenn Miller Orchestra
- You Belong to Me – Taylor Swift
- Hall of Fame – The Script
- Thrift Shop – Macklemore
- I’ve Got the Magic in Me – B.o.B.
- Fireworks – Katy Perry
- Dog Days Are Over – Florence and the Machine
There were no sad songs in this list; they were all fun and full of life—just like Zoe had been. Ali noticed there were even a few big band numbers in there, thanks to an accidental family viewing of an old movie, The Glenn Miller Story, starring Jimmy Stewart and June Allison. Ali, Isaac, and Zoe had stumbled across it while channel surfing one night. When it was over, Zoe immediately uploaded some of the songs from iTunes and insisted that her parents show her how to Swing Dance. They pushed the furniture out of the way and turned the living room into a dance floor for the next hour, all the while laughing hysterically over the abnormally high number of left feet they had among them.
When they weren’t goofing around, Zoe was actually quite agile and moved with surprising grace for a young girl. Her long, dark, wavy hair flowed freely around her cherubic face, seeming to accentuate her apple cheeks, and giving her a perpetually happy appearance.
Smiling at the memories, Ali sat down at the piano and began to play “In the Mood.” Just then, Chloe walked in and said, “How about playing something I can sing to, Ali Oop?”
Ali looked up in surprise, leaped to her feet, and ran into her sister’s open arms. The two held each other, rocking back and forth slowly, tears flowing. After a few moments, as if through telepathy, the sisters released each other and dried their eyes in silent agreement that there would be plenty of time for crying later. Tonight was about relishing the comfort of family.
Chloe opened the piano bench and pulled out several well-worn songbooks dating back to the days of their family sing-a-longs. Their contents ran the gamut from church music, to pop tunes, to Christmas carols.
Thumbing through the books, Chloe’s intention was to find some fun, upbeat music to lighten the mood, but her plan took a detour when she happened upon “Amazing Grace.” That particular hymn never failed to move her, and she knew it was a favorite of Ali’s as well. When she placed the sheet music on the piano, Ali nodded her head appreciatively and began to play as Chloe and their mother stood by the piano and joined her in singing.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me;
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.
T’was Grace that taught
My heart to fear,
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares
We have already come.
T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far
And Grace will lead us home.
The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.
When we’ve been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Then when we’ve first begun.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.
When the last note faded away, Chloe smiled at her sister, sat down next to her on the piano bench and resumed flipping through the songbooks, trying to find something uplifting. While she was looking, Ali began playing a tune her family didn’t recognize. It was a pleasantly haunting melody that seemed to teeter on the razor’s edge between cheerful and melancholy.
“Ali, that’s lovely. What is it?” her mother asked.
Ali kept playing, but didn’t answer right away. Finally, she said, “It doesn’t have a name. It’s not even a whole song, really. It’s just the start of a tune that popped into my head one day and stuck with me. Every once in a while I add a few bars. Someday I hope to finish the music and add lyrics, but I’m in no hurry. The inspiration will come to me when the time is right.”
Nathan looked at his little sister and shook his head gently from side to side. “Just when I thought I knew everything there is to know about our Ali Oop, she up and surprises me!”
Suddenly, Chloe cried out excitedly, “Ah-ha! I found it!” And she propped a songbook up in front of Ali. It was the theme from Rocky, “Eye of the Tiger”, which provided the perfect segue to change the tone of the evening.
The next hour was like a showcase of the pop hits of the ‘80s and ‘90s. “Physical,” “Billie Jean,” “I Love a Rainy Night,” “Jump,” “Broken Wings,” “We Got the Beat,” “It’s Still Rock ‘n Roll to Me,” and “All I Wanna Do.”
Nathan walked through the front door, dragging Martin with him, just as Ali started playing “The Macarena.” Despite loud groans of feigned distress from the entire group, Chloe pulled them all to their feet and coached them through the half-remembered-half-forgotten dance steps.
Emotionally sated by the music, physical hunger took center stage, and the family followed their rumbling stomachs to the kitchen. Everyone foraged through the over-stuffed fridge to find their own particular favorites—lasagne for Martin, tuna casserole for Chloe, rice and beans for Peggy, ham for Nathan, and mac and cheese for Ali—then they all sat down together as Martin poured the homemade wine he had decanted earlier.
Nathan stood and raised his glass, as did the others. “To Isaac and Zoe: Forever in our hearts.”
To order the e-book version of Since I Last Saw You, go to: www.SinceILastSawYou.com
Print version coming soon!
Posted by Alice Kuder, December 11, 2013