A Healthy Family

It is a few days before Father’s Day as I write and I am contemplating the role of a parent. I see that role with some perspective, both as a parent and a child. Once upon a time, before I had children, I thought that grown children were supposed to be independent. They were to establish their own lives, work through their own problems, and visit occasionally with the parents who raised them. Such independent children were a sure sign that parents had done their jobs well. Eleven years ago, one of the wisest men I know taught me differently. He never said a philosophical word; he never preached; he just showed up. Every day, while I was being treated for cancer, he was there. He drove me to the hospital; he pushed my toddler in a stroller; he sat on the couch and watched endless episodes of Sesame Street with us. Some days, I felt fine and didn’t really "need" anybody. Other days, I don’t think I would have survived without him. It didn’t matter; he was there. He was my father-in-law and he laid down his entire life that year for me, my husband, and my son. For the last eight weeks, I have watched Mr. Henderson arrive at the house next door every morning at nine o’clock. He is greeted by a toddler the same age as mine was. This time the child is Nicholas and he is very happy to see his grandfather. Mr. Henderson’s daughter is my neighbor and friend Kelli. It’s not cancer this time, but Kelli is still fighting for life. She is in the middle of a very high-risk pregnancy. She knows that at any moment, she might hemorrhage so badly that she will have to leave her home in an ambulance. She faces the likelihood of a premature delivery, the probability of a hysterectomy and the certainty that both her life and her baby’s will be in some jeopardy. At twenty-nine, Kelli has a very good idea what it means to lay down one’s life for her child. But Kelli is blessed. The idea of sacrifice for a child is not new to her. Her husband is one of 13 children. He knows what it is to sacrifice for a child because he witnessed it daily in his childhood home. Kelli is one of four. Even in adulthood, all four grown children are very close to each other and to their parents. It is clear that relationships were a priority as those children grow. The first time I ever saw Kelli, she was surrounded by her siblings, her fiance, and her parents. And they’ve been there, solid and sure, for as long as I’ve known them. This isn’t immaturity; it’s a healthy family. It makes perfect sense that, as Kelli pours herself into her children (born and yet-to-be born) her father pours himself into Kelli. There are plenty of things he could be doing. He’s an avid golfer and this has been a glorious spring and early summer. Choosing to be with his child and grandchild, he’s pushing Nicholas’ stroller, catching him at the end of the slide and just being there. In case Kelli needs him. Because that’s what parents do. Kelli says, "Now I totally understand what it really means when you tell your children, at any age, ‘I’ll always be there for you.’" I hope Kelli knows what a good mother she is. I hope Mr. Henderson understands the strength that Kelli is drawing from him. And it is my hope and prayer that someday Kelli and Mr. Henderson will tell Nicholas’ new little brother how they both watched and waited and hoped and prayed the summer that he grew beneath her heart and in his. Please pray for them.

Foss is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2001