Six years ago the photo on the left was taken. The two boys are the sons of my best friend, Catherine. The girl is my daughter. Catherine and her boys along with my family and me had increasingly merged. We spent many holidays and birthdays together. She was a surrogate mother to my daughter. Weekly the boys came over for dinner to give her a night to herself and us time alone with the boys. For so long it had been just the three of them most of the time. Together we were building another family. Then Catherine died tragically and unexpectedly.
Her death brought changes and uncertainty. Our kids have their own stories to tell about what that journey has been like. I also have a story to tell. This weekend felt like a much overdue family reunion, bringing back together these three under my roof. They were no longer little chicks. But I wanted to gather them under my wings nonetheless and hold them tight. I chose to do so figuratively rather than literally. I hugged them each when I could without getting too annoying, I hope. And oh, how my heart ached to have Catherine there too.
They indulged my sentimentality by recreating the photograph. When I look at the picture, tears often come. At one point I found myself whispering, “I hope I’ve done alright, Catherine.” I pictured her nodding back with tears in her eyes too. I know for certain that she would be incredibly proud of our kids. I miss my friend, more than words can say.
An interesting paradox exists in my loss of her. There is a deep ache that I guess will always be due to her absence. And there is a joy of having had the time with her I did. Somehow the recreated photograph captures the paradox. I feel healing and pain, joy and sorrow. I sometimes wonder what our lives would be like now. I don’t sugarcoat it. Catherine and I saw things very differently at times. But we had a chemistry I rarely experience in relationships. When things went well, and they often did, it was effortless.
It hasn’t been an easy five years since her death. And I imagine the next five years will have difficulties as well. That seems to be life. But no matter what happens, if it is up to me, the roads taken by the boys will continue to join up, overlap, and travel alongside mine and ours from time to time. What I know from this weekend is that we are connected. We are family.
There was something very right about being together again. As Catherine used to say, “Family isn’t who’s got your blood… it’s who’s got your back.” I’ve got their backs, Catherine. Today and forever.