Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Vicissitudes


By JOELLEN COLLINS

I have been high on life ever since several personal events came together to inspire me with renewed faith in the possibilities of life and the certainty of the strength of love. Sometimes when I write about the very emotional episodes I experience, I think I should be writing more complicated pieces, taking on politics or current events. I have, however, found my voice, and I think it continues to be the sharing of the concepts indicated in my column's name, "On Life's Terms," or anecdotal and sometimes intimate glimpses into my life or those of the people I know. So be it: no more apologies.

I have spent more time than usual in airplanes over the past several months celebrating in California the engagement and the wedding of my younger daughter. The wedding, in San Francisco, was one of those occasions you hope for but seldom experience: a nearly flawless and joyous occasion, with the congregation surrounding my daughter and now son-in-law in a circle of love before the vows were said. No one seemed unduly stressed, including the bridal couple, and years of friendly relations paid off in a happy mix of extended families.

Even the suggestion of the rabbi who performed the ceremony proved to be just right. He asked the couple to stay apart from each other for the four days before the wedding; they could talk via phone or computer only. So when my other daughter and I arrived for that period of time, the three of us could get many of the pre-wedding tasks done without fear of feeling pressure or irritation that could spill over to the potential spouse. In addition, we shared one of our happiest times as mother and daughters, laughing together in the morning, appreciating the mutual effort we engaged in of last-minute chores, being able for maybe the last time to just connect and relate to each other as we had so many years ago before college and moves and husbands. There was a kind of innocence about it all. Sweet memories remain.

At one of the reception tables sat my cousins and my closest friends. We weren't able to visit enough because of the very loud band (which everyone under 50 loved), but the next morning I had breakfast with them at a small café on Union Street. We basked in the glow of the previous evening and it seemed a time of positive portent. I have learned to truly savor these happy moments and treasure the brief time I spend with those I love.

A week later I learned of the death of one of my cousin's daughters from a heart condition that had gone undiagnosed. She was 44 and just embarking on a more positive period in a troubled life. Then, this morning as I prepared to write this column, I heard the sad news that my closest lifelong friend's son-in-law Mike had passed away after three years of struggle and pain due to multiple myeloma. He a was a darling man, a Sausalito, Calif., cop affectionately known as Sarge by his peers, a man of laughs and wild humor. Some 400 people turned out in Sausalito during the early stages of his illness to sign up for bone-marrow transplant donations. He even underwent a stem cell transplant and, though his body rejected it and he became weaker, he still fought to stay with life so he could be with his precious wife, Erika (who calls me Auntie Jo). Mike did not "go gentle into that good night." Dylan Thomas would have respected him.

So in the midst of my maternal pleasure in my two daughters, their choice of mates and their strength, intelligence and good hearts, I am always aware that beneath joy might lie a sour sadness, that if we become too unmindful about the sacred minutes we are granted, we might not take the time to really be with those we love. In the midst of the start of a new family, grief was lurking. I refuse to be maudlin about all of this, as all I can do is be a positive person on my own and love those friends and family who are so dear to me.

Oh, and by the way, I am due for another happy boost, one that women of my age (and younger) will appreciate. I am to be a first-time grandmother in June. I plan on cherishing every sweet minute I can!




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