Tonite the three oldest kids and I went to the funeral home to pay respects for one of our former neighbors. When we left the funeral home, we had the most incredible, passionate, thought provoking dialogue about life and death and families.
You see, our former neighbor Jenny passed away. Jenny was an older woman with a grown up son. Jenny and her son Michael lived two doors down and they both suffered from mental illness. We were neighbors for close to 10 years and came to have a very trusting relationship. Jenny and Michael weren't the sort of folks that you invited over for dinner or went garage sale-ing with. They kinda kept to themselves. They could easily be candidates for the hoarders show AND the pet hoarders show. But they were nice to us. And they watched out for us. And I knew that if there was ever ANYTHING I needed, Michael would help me.
The kids also had a nice relationship Michael. This man that could have easily been scary to the kids became someone that they knew and trusted and a part of our daily lives. And even though we aren't neighbors now, the kids still go out of their way to say hey to him at the grocery store and are concerned for his well being.
Over the years of being neighbors, we rarely saw Michael and his mom have company. There was very little sign of family trying to help them out. Life was very hard for Michael and his mom. We knew that there was another brother. But really, it seemed like they had little to no family or friends ever around.
The point of this is, Michael's mom died this past weekend. Our very very favorite neighbor of all times, Denise, called us today and told us. So we went to the funeral home for visitation and to pay our respects.
I left the funeral home sad and frustrated and bummed out. The funeral home visitation room was jammed packed with people. Probably 50 or more. We saw the most beautiful pictures of Jenny as a cute toddler, a sexy young woman and a glowing mother. The same woman that we have seen with uncombed hair, bad teeth, constantly wearing a housecoat. She was beautiful. You could see love and joy in her eyes in every single one of the photos. How did Jenny go from a beautiful young woman, daughter, mother to living as a recluse in her house with her grown son and 30+ cats? How do those things happen?
We learned that in addition to her two sons, Jenny also has a daughter. What?!? A daughter. A grown daughter that looks just like some regular lady and is a school teacher. Holy cow.
I was shocked. The kids were shocked. Neighbors for 10 years and we never knew she had a daughter. There were so so many questions as we were driving away.
Where did all of those people come from?
Where were all of those people the past 15 years?
Why didn't we know she had a daughter?
How can you all be here and dressed in your finest and laughing and talking around this casket when you never tried to help her and Michael when she was alive?
So so SO many questions.
Families are hard to explain. The things that grown-up people do to each other are hard to explain.
We all think we are doing the right thing at the time. And then years go past and we have regret. Loads and load of regret.
At first I was full of judgement. A ton of judgement.
But then I came to my senses and remembered that I have no business judging. Every single one of us has something. SOMETHING about our family that could easily be criticized by anyone looking in. I reminded myself that I could be at the funeral for my parents and people could wonder where I have been all of this time. Or that our parents could come to our funerals and the people in our day-to-day lives could wonder why they haven't been more a part of our lives.
We just don't know what is going on in another person's home. There is just no way to know.
So, I made a pinky promise with our kids that I would always love them. No matter what. ALWAYS LOVE FOREVER. And that I will always be here to take care of them if they need me. We are family. That is what OUR family does.
I made them pinky promise me that if I go nuts, they'd either build a padded room for me in the basement or they'd come and visit me in the special hospital.
I also gave the kids permission to call the hoarders program and to remove the 600 pets from our house when things go a little crazy in my old lady world. And I apologized in advance for all of the things I am going to do to screw up.
And then I reminded the kids of how important it is to tell people that you care. Don't be the person that shows up at the funeral home with nothing but regret.
I could have never guess when I opened my eyes this morning that this is how our day would end. I am glad for the opportunity to have this conversation with the kids though.
And I will go to sleep tonight knowing that I am trying my hardest to make sure the people that are my people know how much I care.
I do really care.
The pictures were taken by Ella on Monday and today. Most mornings she watches the sun rise above our beautiful city on her way to school and she LOVES it. And she loves taking pictures of it. These are for Denise, because she is discovering how much she loves to watch the day begin too.
(The sun comes up over our beautiful city this morning as seen through Ella's camera.)