NOTIONS: Upon the solstice, a passage about passage

December 24, 2007

We marked the winter solstice last week and ushered in the cold season. She arrived, however, on the arm of a promise that the days will grow longer and warmer, renewal waltzing in on their wake.

As the seasons turn and the year wanes, indulge me a passage about passage.

Early one morning long, long ago, my former wife Laura and I found ourselves seated across from one another at a small table in the basement cafeteria of Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia. Laura had flown in from Fort Wayne with our son, Austin. I'd driven down from Hartford. And a few minutes earlier, we'd handed our sobbing child to a yellow-gowned nurse, who'd carried him off to an operating room. She'd told us to be back in 45 minutes. While the doctor examined Austin's eyes for any recurrence of cancer, we bought breakfast and sat down to eat. "There's something I have to tell you," Laura said. "There's something I have to tell you, too," I said. "You go first." "I'm getting married," she said. "That's great," I said, "When's the wedding?" "June 28," she said. I smiled and laughed. "What's so funny?" Laura said. "I'm getting married June 30," I said. And so, on Friday, June 28, 1991, in a little town north of Fort Wayne, Laura married Dave Hall. That evening, I flew into Baer Field and checked in at the Hilton. When their wedding reception was over, Laura and Dave drove out to the airport and dropped off our twins, Austin and Zach, at my room. Exhausted from all the ado, the boys barely stirred all night. The next morning, Austin, Zach and I flew to Connecticut. And on Sunday, June 30, Pam Klein and I were married in a little chapel just north of Hartford. Four months later, Pam and I quit our jobs and moved to Indianapolis to be closer to the kids. Six years after that, Dave and Laura added a daughter, Erin, to the mix. In the Hallmark-moment household, children grow up with two loving parents. In modern reality, many kids grow up with a single parent, or divorced parents, or foster parents, or adoptive parents, or grandparents, or guardians or some combination or variation thereof. Austin and Zach grew up telling people "We have two moms and two dads." On some occasions (read: when they didn't get what they wanted), our sons complained about their four parents acting as "a united front." On others, they tried to play one set of parents against the other, or a step- parent against a birth parent. But for the most part-judging, at least, by the talented men of good character who've emerged from this hybrid-the 4:2 ratio worked pretty well. But this is a tale of passage, not parenting. And we've had our share. Three years ago, Pam lost her life to cancer. Two months ago, Dave lost his life to depression and suicide. Our sons, who learned from two moms and two dads, will celebrate this Christmas with one of each. And Erin, who's known only a nuclear household, must carry on with only her mom and brothers to guide her. I struggle with the notion that Pam craved life and could not keep it, while Dave was blessed with life and could no longer bear it. My friend Roland said the other day that he wished those opting out of life could transfer their unused time to those preferring to remain. But it doesn't work that way.

What does work is the searing of pain, the comfort of friends, the passage of time, the healing of wounds, the resurrection of hope and the blessing of renewal.

In that context, I reflect on this year nearly past with mixed emotions.

My heart aches for Laura and Erin, for Dave's mom and siblings, for my friends John and Rollie and all the others who lost loves this year.

I'm anxious for Pam's dad, who's recovering from one health scare and fearful of another.

As for me and my house, however, there is joy once again this season-joy made more joyous by the shadow from which it's emerged.

The tree sparkles with white lights and two lifetimes of trimmings. Evergreen boughs line bookshelves and doorways. There's a scent of pinecones and, well, love in the air.

The decisive moment of my year, you see, arrived not with St. Nicholas, but St. Valentine. For on that day, Cherí Ellen O'Neill took my hands, and looked into my eyes, and we said unto one another, "I will always seek to honor the life and the divinity within you, and I will always seek to share the life and the divinity within me, through all of our days ahead."

As passages go, it just doesn't get much better than that.

Hetrick is chairman and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm.His column appears twice a month.He can be reached at bhetrick@ibj.com.
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