Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Jan. 23, 2009

The good, the bad and the boring

It's not a very good photo. The camera was a bit too far away in the darkened kitchen, making most things a bit too distant for the flash to light the scene properly. But the broad smiles of the three women standing shoulder to shoulder can be seen clearly.

There are six people in the photo, but three of them are only suggested by the bulges in the bellies of the three women. The smile of each of the soon-to-be mothers is probably partly because that's what a person does when a picture is taken and partly because each is cradling her tummy in her hands as if she's carrying a small watermelon. Any woman who has given birth recalls that time well.

I'm the middle person in the picture. It was during my curly-hair period and, when I look at the photo, I seem to be just a young kid. That bulge has become daughter Katherine, a car-driving, violin-playing youngster who enjoys getting together with her second-cousin Hannah, the bulge to my right in the photo.

But that doesn't happen very often. Kris, husband Art's cousin and the woman at my right in the picture, lives in Wisconsin and our families usually only get together at Christmas and at the annual reunion of Art's Mom's family in August.

Maria was standing to my left in the photo. She had married Kris' brother Dave and his namesake was the third bulge in the photo. We have seen both Maria and the Davids even less than Kris and Hannah. For a number of years, they lived in Florida and many other years the reunion date conflicted with things Dave and Maria were involved in.

I had thought about that picture only occasionally in the intervening years. But it came to mind immediately on Jan. 5. Art, our two girls and I were nearing Manhattan after our annual Christmas visit to Wisconsin when Art decided to give his mother a call to let her know we had arrived safely.

"Oh, I have some sad news," Donna began.

As the "technical" one in the family, his immediate thought was that the new TV he had just purchased for his Mom had gone bad. But that wasn't it.

"Maria died this morning," she said.

It was one of those messages that wasn't entirely a surprise, yet it was. Maria had been diagnosed with breast cancer about 10 years ago and it appeared she had it whipped. Then three years ago, they found cancer in her spine. This time the doctors held out no hope for a good outcome. There would be no cure - only a holding action. Maria had been doing pretty well with the various treatments she had been receiving, but those same treatments had also weakened her. An infection took hold and efforts to stop it had no effect.

Art's Mom went on to say how much Maria's passing saddened her, what with her two young boys. As she often does, Donna added that Maria was gone at 49 and there she was at exactly twice Maria's age and "no good to anyone."

Eight days later Art received a call from his brother Tommy. Donna had suffered a stroke and from what he had heard, that feisty unusually-active 98-year-old was not likely to make it.

But to everyone's surprise, Donna rallied and is once again trying to talk everyone's head off, albeit usually in a string of mostly unrelated words that frustrate both her and the listener. While the words are usually clear, the meaning often is not. Yet Donna appears to be getting stronger each day.

All of this has caused me to reflect again and again on something Art keeps telling me, something that I agree with, yet don't always put into practice. It's a simple idea really. Enjoy everything, for even the bad and boring things can hold the power to entertain if you only make the effort to see them as such. Art likes to point to how his Uncle Art, Kris' and Dave's father, bought a new car just a few months before he died. He knew cancer would get him soon yet he bought it anyway. Even though he was able to drive it only a few times, it gave him great pleasure.

In some ways, the picture of us three women seems like ancient history. But sometimes, it seems as if it was taken a short time ago. So I need to work on keeping that same attitude Art has and his Uncle Art had. And I need to work on instilling in Katie and her big sister Mariya that life has many wonderful things for us to enjoy, even when things are going badly.

And life, well it flies by far quicker than we think it will.

2009 Index