January 18, 2011 | Posted in: Family
Recently I came across the most beautiful book dedication I’ve ever read. It’s from Bobbi Illing’s, Moments, and is made to her three grown children:
“And to my children, I want you to use up every ounce of love in your body before you die. I want you all to get up in the morning, devour your coffee with total enjoyment and start looking for a place to put your love. Do you have an elderly neighbor that would love a homemade pie … or a single mom, teach her son how to ride a bike. Love yourself enough to a keep a garden … even if it’s not a masterpiece, it’s your gift back to God. Never be without an animal, they show you joy and love wrapped in one hairy, bouncy wiggle. Always love each other. You were born together and you need to always keep the silver thread of family connected. Love each other’s spouses as your own. Work for each other and play together. Remember, their children are also your children. You were loved by a mother who was honored to be in your life.”
Though I find the whole dedication meaningful, I highlighted that which touched my heart the most profoundly. I was especially taken with her well chosen wording, silver thread of family. It made me weep as I reflected on how my mom did such an amazing job of keeping her five children together through the most difficult circumstances of life.
As siblings she made it clear from the cradle that we were born together and throughout our entire lives she expected us to love one another; to remain connected; to embrace each others spouses; to work for one another; to play together; and to love each others children as our own. I can’t imagine a mother instilling a better message into her children’s lives and psyches.
The five of us were born within seven years of each other. 1957, 59, 61, 62, 64. Tightly knit, for sure. Three girls, two boys. I’m the eldest. Cherisa and I, born in the Philippines; Chip conceived there, born in Chicago; Lisa and Clif, born in Indiana. Best friends through childhood we would willingly die for each other as adults.
I believe our relationship was forged in great part because we moved a lot when we were growing up (I’m not sure about my siblings but I know I went to 10 schools in 12 years!). Our father’s hot temper played a roll in his not being able to keep a job. Oftentimes it seemed we moved when the rent was due. As children we learned early we couldn’t count on were we’d be living in the morning but we could count on the fact that the five of us would be together. Life as rolling stones gave us the opportunity to become best friends and constant companions without a hint of jealousy, turmoil or anger. It’s a good thing because by the time I was 14, insanity ran rampant in our home and we’d be in dire need of each other in our lives.
Our father simply lost his mind. The combination of a bitter entitlement mentality (the world owed him something) and a long battle with epilepsy. I also don’t discount my belief that the pharmaceutical drugs he’d been taking to control his gran mal seizures weren’t partially to blame for his mental state. Without details, suffice it to say our days were filled with sheer madness. Ironically, the worse it got the more tenaciously my siblings and I clung to one another. No matter the tempest, we were each other’s shelter and safe harbor. In retrospect, we were keepers of each other’s sanity.
The day our father killed an innocent man remains difficult for me. It happened in the afternoon on a sweltering August day in 1973. Within minutes of the shooting well meaning family came to my mother’s rescue. Aunts, uncles, nephews, cousins. There was no shortage of those who were deeply concerned for us. Feeling life was going to be too hard for a (now) single mom with five children, each volunteered to take us and raise us. “We’ll take Cindy and Cheri.” “We’ll take Chip.” “We’ll take Lisa and Clif.” And they meant every word.
It all happened so quickly, none of us had time to think. One minute we were together and the next we were whisked off to different locations around the city. For the next few days, we walked around in mind-numbing silence. We could hear the adults talking amongst themselves [about our futures] but nothing was sinking in except for the idea that the five of us would be flung to the wind landing somewhere between the Grand Canyon and the Mississippi River. How could this be happening?!
One of my most treasured memories throughout those dark days happened three days after the tragedy. August 25, our mother’s 44th birthday. Mom pulled up outside the home where my sister and I were staying and knocked on the door. When our treasured cousin, Rick, answered, she told him how much she loved and appreciated him but that she’d come to take her daughters home. In her lovely Filipina
accent, she quietly said, “No matter what, my children belong together. No one will be better to them than they’ll be to each other. It would be a terrible thing to split them up.” She uttered these words with absolute conviction.
As Cheri and I climbed into the car, our little brothers and sister were waiting for us. Out of sheer joy we wept and clung to each other. For me, as the oldest, it was especially heart-wrenching and I couldn’t help but feel the deepest sense of gratitude for how strong my mother had become under the circumstances. And, though I can’t speak for my siblings, I can barely put into words how much I love our mother for doing the right thing by us.
As children we weathered things no children should ever endure … but life isn’t fair and we must all learn to play the hand we’re dealt. The circumstances of our life caused much heartache and pain, not only to our family but to the families our father harmed. But somehow, through it all, we carried the burden together. With little to laugh about, we found ways to laugh. We stood together. We cared for one another. And, as we all began to make our way into the world, leaving home one by one, we cheered each other on and prayed for each others successes and happiness.
Would that all children emerging from traumatic childhoods could share this “you were born together, love each other” philosophy instilled in us by our mother. Thank you Bobbi Illing for putting into words what my mother lived and breathed.
This is the last portrait of the five of us together. Taken in 1991, our youngest brother, Clif, died just a few years later from liver and pancreatic cancer. Though we remain heartbroken by his death, the silver thread of his life is woven throughout each day of ours (we’re especially grateful Lisa and her husband named their son after him).
A favorite picture from a recent family gathering. Our beloved mother, Corazon de Jesus (Heart of Jesus), is between us. We’re only missing our sister, Cheri, who lives in New Jersey and can’t make it to near enough family gatherings. We love you, Sis!
In the years since we all left home, there have only been a handful of issues that have divided us. None so serious that they could keep us apart for very long. I’ve certainly learned the value of family can never be under estimated and is infinitely more priceless than one can imagine. To me, my family has always been the silver lining behind every dark cloud. The hope that tomorrow will be a better day. And, as I enter the autumn of my life, they become more important to me than ever before.
With that in mind, how’s your family? If your relationship with them is wonderful, I’m rejoicing with you. If it needs some work, I encourage you to not delay. Pick up the phone. Bury all the worthless hatchets. Make peace … and do whatever it takes to pick up the silver thread that weaves together the rich tapestry of your lives. You were born together and you might as well use up every ounce of love in your body [on each other] before you die.
And, Mom, you are loved by a daughter who is honored to be in your life. If we are the silver threads of your life, you are the spun gold of ours. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.