The question came up just about every hour over the weekend.
“When’s Abbi coming home?”
Abbi is my oldest daughter, sibling to the three other kids you see up there.
In the three years and (just shy of) two days since their mother, my wife Andrea, passed away my four children have lived a life of adjustment. For most people, the adjustments would have been insanely difficult for a family that was whole. We moved out of our home. I started an entirely different job. A lack of money required me to move my oldest from one school to another in her junior year. We saw two graduations on the same day – 8th grade for my middle, high school for Abbi. In the last year of elementary school I then moved my sons to another school. This move came after their sister, my oldest daughter, moved away to college in another state.
Change, you see, is constant. It is in just about any family. It seems to be more constant in ours and that’s not a simple thing when you’re trying to adjust to those changes when you don’t have one of your parents. I cannot pretend to say I understand – I didn’t lose a parent, those four kids did. I can, however, empathize because I have had to be mother and father to them since Andrea died.
I tend to look at this in other terms, too. Since 2011 three of those kids have seen women in their lives leave. First their mother, who didn’t have much choice, and then their sister. Their sister didn’t have any choice, either. You grow up, you transition to adulthood, that’s what happens. It’s not my oldest child’s fault that her mother passed away. It’s not her problem, either, that she left as her sister and brothers were entering the awkward, scary and bizarre world of puberty.
You might think by my writing this that their sister was a surrogate for their mother, taking care of them and mothering them. I will unequivocally deny this until the day I die. She didn’t cook, didn’t fix wounds and wasn’t at the doctor with her brother when he broke his arm. I was there doing all of that.
I will also say, as I ordered my children (who abruptly ignored said order) to help me clean up the mess they’d made in their sister’s bedroom that she didn’t clean much, either. They all wanted to know when their sister was coming home and cannot wait for her Thanksgiving visit. As big a mess as they made in the empty bedroom . . . the leftovers of three years’ worth of a high-schooler’s life were both nostalgic and annoying. Old assignments, a stack – not a few a full leaning-tower of Pisa stack – of 3-ring binders from classes long since forgotten. The purge and cleaning took hours – the length of a full Pink Floyd LP and a couple Claptons.
This isn’t a complaint of the chore-laden single parent, though. This is a celebration of emotional connection. No, my daughter did not become mother to these three kids and she shouldn’t. However, she’s an adult now and she’s always held sway over them. When she wanted to be silly and funny she was just as obnoxious and loud as they were. When they were being ridiculous, she often was chastising them before I was. It was a close tie that they all have.
The four of them have a connection that few others can claim – having lost their mother and having banded together to live beyond it.
There was a study recently that showed a shortened life span for kids who live without a parent. They said the emotional, physical and mental stress basically took years off their life. Still, I look at my four kids and see strength, not weakness. These four kids watched their father struggle and never complained. They ate meals that I cooked when they may have wanted McDonald’s and Pizza and still . . . they didn’t complain. They are a united front, representative of what I’ve always said:
We’re stronger together than when we’re apart.
That’s true even when one of us is several states away. It’s distance but not distant. She will always be with us. It makes it that much more amazing when family comes home, wherever that may be.