Henry has every right to be embittered and negative about life. He grows up quickly becoming the man of the house for his mother and five younger siblings after his father dies when Henry is seventeen.
He is a medic in WWII and sees suffering and loss first hand. After his return to the states, his role within his family continues to be one of caregiver.
On February 12, 1987 his fifty-four year old wife Nancy dies after a two-year battle with ovarian cancer and then the unthinkable happens. Henry’s firstborn child and only son Chris, dies in an industrial accident on February 13, 1990.
What makes a person resilient enough to sustain multiple losses? How does one carry on and still embrace life, still enjoy the time he has left?
Henry is my father-in-law and we grow even closer after my husband/his son dies. He comes to our home always ready to lend a hand with his young grandson and to help me around the house. He has always been the one to document life events through the taking of pictures and videotaping, so he continues photographing during his visits.
Looking back to the months after Chris’ funeral, I think I was as much help to Hank (that’s what I called Henry) as he is to me. I would always talk about Chris, sharing stories and asking questions about his childhood. Tears come easily during these talks and my house is a safe place for Hank to release his – a difficult emotion for a man from his generation.
I didn’t know it then, but what Hank gives me is a strong example of how to survive despite all odds. His love and devotion to family is not broken when members of it are no longer present. He keeps memories alive and moves forward, always showing those left that they are loved.
Another amazing gift given to me by Hank is acceptance. I think about how difficult it must have been for him to see me moving ahead without his son, as I plan a new life with my current husband Jeff. Hank always focuses on the future however, and the opportunities for us as a new family. Hank and my sisters-in-law attend our wedding and support us when we remarry.
The family tree stenciled on Hank’s kitchen wall has been there for many years and displays apples with all the family members’ names. After our wedding, what an honor it is when we see that the tree now holds our daughter’s name, a new grandchild in Hank’s family!
Maybe Hank had been through so much in his lifetime that he understands that life is too short to live life depressed and embittered. He believes in family in whatever way that develops and he proves that in his unselfish acceptance of my new life.
The day that Hank died was another difficult day for me – but I celebrated that Hank was free from any further worldly suffering and that his tears would be wiped away forever. I however, am crying as I write this!