Tag Archives: Transitions

Family Bonds

Armorel and L.

Armorel and L.

I spoke with my mother-in-law, Armorel, tonight. She told me, “I feel sad tonight, somehow.” And that’s exactly how I feel tonight, just sad somehow.

To set the record straight, Armorel is not my mother-in-law any longer. Twelve years ago I gave up any official, legal status as one of her family members when I was divorced from her son. It was a painful break-up, hers and mine, for we had seemed to share a mutual understanding about life. At times the break-up seemed even more painful than his and mine.

I have missed Armorel in my life, the way she once was. I miss the bond I thought we had. But divorce can break families in unexpected ways and the lines of communication are not smooth or open.

This weekend Armorel moved to an assisted-living residence. She is 96 years old, and until now, has pretty much lived an independent life. Armorel only just gave up her car at 94, with more than a little reluctance and feistiness.

In fact Armorel has lived a mostly independent life, at times having to be fiercely independent. When she was 18, Armorel left a small fishing village in Newfoundland to join other hard-working “Newfs” in Chelsea, Mass.  She married at 28, and by 35 was the sole support of her family with two young children, her husband gravely ill with brain cancer. At 46 Armorel’s children left for college, and her home was empty. At 63 she married again but had just three sweet, short, years with her second love.

Armorel is accustomed to the tough changes that life can bring, and she’s always demonstrated amazing resilience in continuing on. Her faith has a lot to do with that.

But tonight’s phone call was challenging. It was our first conversation with Armorel since she moved to her new home, her assisted-living residence. My daughter spoke to her first and looked concerned mouthing, “she’s very sad.” As I took the phone to speak, Armorel’s wavering, deeply sad voice said to me, “Oh, Sarah.”  She didn’t need to say more. And it was at that moment that I recognized the bond we’ll share forever. It’s a bond known only by the heart and not by divorce decrees.

I knew exactly what she meant by “Oh, Sarah” and what it said of where she was right now and where she has been in the past and what she has thought about… because I know Armorel. I truly know her despite those in-between hurt spaces of our lives. I know and love all the family stories about Armorel and her sisters, a time so long ago. And I remember the wonderful times in our lives together in the not so distant past.

“Oh, Sarah” she said with such great wistfulness, and I welled up. There was so much to say and so little that would change things. Armorel knew that I understood what she meant. “I’m so sorry Armorel,” I replied. “I know I’ll get to like it,” she offered. “I know you will,” I encouraged. We both got quiet. And there was peace in that moment of quiet, a reflective space. We understood. We have a bond. We weren’t just  talking about her new living arrangement but about this stage in her life. It’s such a terribly bittersweet stage, but a stage you only face if you’ve been gifted a very long life. Armorel will, I am sure, live it with grace.

Love you, Armorel… always have, always will.

Life is good, (and sometimes just hard)
Sarah

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Soul Train

I am writing, writing on a train.  The train is taking me on a journey from New Haven, Connecticut to Williamsburg, Virginia. But actually, it is taking me farther than that.  It’s taking me and my daughter to a new time in our lives.  You might be able to tell that I’ve been on the train for a while now, with abundant time to think and reflect.

Most of the time I drive or fly. I rarely take trains or so I thought until today.  Today, as my train began stopping at train stations along the way, I was surprised to remember that I have more than a passing acquaintance with several Northeast Corridor train stations.  In fact some I know quite personally, and unexpectedly, they have played a supporting role in various transitions in my life.

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Let’s start where my journey began today, Union Station, New Haven.  I’m familiar with Union Station not for my leaving or going but for my daughter, LB, leaving or going when she lived in New York City.  LB moved to New York City soon after graduating college. Like so many newly minted graduates it was her dream to live in a big city.  LB’s first big move after college marked her transition to independent adulthood and to my nest being officially empty.  My home was only full again when she chose to return for a visit.   I would look forward with great anticipation to the occasional Friday evening when I could pick her up from Union Station to bring her home for a cherished weekend visit. And I would always be distressed on the following Monday morning when very early I would have to rush her back to Union Station so that we could both make it to work on time.  Monday mornings always came too quickly when LB was visiting from the city.

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A few hours out of New Haven, my train stopped at Penn Station in New York City.   It triggered a memory of my own trip back home to New Jersey  as a young adult on college break.  Rather inexplicably, my college career began in Missouri, and my first trip back East was for winter break.  To save my hard-earned student money (I washed dishes at college),  I traveled by train from St. Louis to New York City.

It was a memorable trip, really, truly memorable.  It included a blizzard so severe that for 10 hours the train was stranded on snow-covered tracks in the middle of some Midwestern plain.  Not moving, without power and heat, the train soon became a party with fellow travelers sharing packed lunches, drink, laughter, sweaters, pillows and life stories.

On that train ride, I met a young poet from England who had taken the train from California across the country.  He was studying here on a fellowship and had started the journey seeking artistic inspiration.  The poet was certainly rewarded and perhaps, might I add, with a little poetic justice.  In fact we all were.  The trip was made special by close camaraderie sparked by a freezing cold train stuck in the snow. This journey marked the beginning of my own independent life from home and was just the start of many unexpected life journeys to follow.

Newark

Newark’s Pennsylvania Station was the next major stop today.  I grew up a very short train ride from Newark.  My mother didn’t drive until I was in 7th grade (can you believe that?), so when I was in elementary and  junior high school, Newark was the place to shop for school clothes if you weren’t going into New York City.  At that time, Newark had a number of major department stores and many independent shops.  In 7th grade on one of those shopping trips, I bought a pair of chunky high-heel type loafers. My mother thought they were terribly ugly.  I thought they were great!  That train trip began my foray into making independent choices that were often not parent-approved.

Ah Trenton.  It’s certainly not a pretty station, and I say that kindly.  There is no architecturally significant reason to visit Trenton’s Transit Station. My apologies Trenton, but you know it’s true.   The station’s cold, modern appearance mirrors my own experience there, a romantic break-up.  By now I don’t remember the exact cause of the break-up that day on the train platform, but it happened. Right there.  Was it that I couldn’t commit?  Was it that he couldn’t wait?  Did we live too far apart? Or were we just too different?  I remember crying cold hard tears on that train platform.  And today the platform looked just as cold as I remembered.

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Philadelphia.  I love Philadelphia.  I felt young and beautiful in Philadelphia.  In the city of Brotherly Love, I felt loved.  It is also is where I was married.   Philadelphia’30th Street Station is a beautiful station.  It’s as grand as Grand Central and as stately as Washington’s Union Station.  I may be biased.  From its platform, I greeted more than one love and it was a gateway to my arriving and leaving that city.  Sometimes I am sad that I ever left, that I ever got on that train platform to leave.  I will always have a fondness for Philly.

Wilmington Train Station is next.  My memory of the Wilmington Train Station is vague.  I believe it’s a brick sort of building.  I have both arrived and left from that train station.  Most likely my vague memory of Wilmington Train Station is due to the fact that I was going through a divorce when I took a train there.  I had traveled to visit my mother looking for familial support.  My daughter, my only child, was in Greece for a semester abroad.  My friends were all married, some happy . . . some not. But it was difficult for them to understand what I was going through, the restarting of a single life. My mother tried her best to be helpful, but she was not.  I learned on that trip that it really is a single journey, the journey back to single life.

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Union Station Washington D.C.   I first arrived there on a Metroliner from Philadelphia.  My future husband had splurged on a Metroliner ticket so that I could visit him, in style.  He was no longer living in Philadelphia and so for several months before we wed, we only saw each other when we visited each other by train.   My Metroliner ride was a one-time experience, and I still remember it.  I traveled in a club chair that swiveled and viewed scenery along the way from over-sized picture windows.  It was a comfortable and wonderful trip, and I thank my now ex-husband for a lovely day of train travel.

Williamsburg Train Station will be my last stop today.  And it will likely be both my first and last visit to that station.  I have traveled with my daughter to help her pack up and move back to Connecticut.  She is pregnant.  We are both starting new journeys with great anticipation, she as a mother and I as a grandmother.

Trains, and train rides, I think I really do love them.

Life is fine,

Sarah