A few months ago, I posted a blog titled "A Season of Change." In the blog, I mentioned a sad change, namely the death of my beloved aunt Polly. I also referred to a happy change, the impending arrival of my grandson, Ellie, who eventually came to live with me in November 2013.
Another Sad Change
I was reminded again this month of the old adage that the only thing permanent is change. My extended family suffered another sad change in recent days. My ex-mother-in-law, Linda, died of complications from cancer on October 29. I have heard the stories about a person’s mother-in-law being an old battle-axe and what not. I did not feel that way about Linda. She was a decent lady, and I remained as close to her after my divorce as I was beforehand. In fact, she was part of a family trip to the Grand Canyon in May 2013. I am including a photograph of her that we snapped during a visit to the Secret Canyon near Page, Arizona, on Wednesday, May 15, 2013.
She called it the "trip of a lifetime." And so it was.
Linda Speeks visits the Secret Canyon in Arizona, May 2013
In addition, I am reproducing her obituary in its entirety here.
Linda Kay Speeks, 65, of Knoxville, Tennessee, passed away on October 29, 2013. At Linda’s request, a memorial service will not be held. In lieu of a service, in the spring of 2014, her family and friends will embark on a trip to Destin, Florida, one of Linda’s favorite locations, to celebrate her life and sprinkle her ashes into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Linda was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, on July 1, 1948. She graduated from South High School. Afterward, she spent much of her professional career providing technical support in the computer industry, including a long-term stint as a bulk bank teller for American Express. Linda always exhibited a zest for life, especially in her love of life’s simple pleasures. She was an avid NASCAR fan and loved her cat, Victoria, dearly. She was devoted to her family and friends.
Linda is survived by her daughter, Paula Martinez; two grandchildren, Christopher Shane Carter and Shelby Ann Carter; four great-grandchildren, Brianna Marie Carter, Aswad Elisha Woodson, Christopher Kainan Carter, and Skylar Renee Carter; and her step-brother, Michael Collins. Linda also leaves behind a legion of friends, extended family and well-wishers. Linda was preceded in death by her parents, Mary Jane Collins, Paul “Buck” Collins (her step-father), and her natural father, Paul Hurst.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the American Cancer Society by telephone (1-800-227-2345), via U.S. mail (American Cancer Society, P.O. Box 22718, Oklahoma City, OK 73123-1718) or online (https://donate.cancer.org/index). Additional information is available at: https://www.cancer.org/involved/donate/memorialgiving/index.
Another Happy Change
As I mentioned in my earlier post, my grandson, Aswad Elisha “Ellie” Woodson, has come to live with me. I love having him here, but he is exhausting. Ellie loves to talk, laugh, eat, run, and play — not necessarily in that order. A constant whirlwind of activity, he is a reminder that my youth is over. Just keeping up with him leaves me breathless.
An exhausted Ellie sleeps while Iron Man stands watch
His little sister, Emma, was born on November 22, 2013. She, too, lives with me now. My ex-wife, Paula, is moving in as well. She will live downstairs in the in-law suite where my mother lived from 2002 until she died in 2007. Paula will be the primary caregiver for the children, especially the baby, but I remain an important adjunct.
We are an eclectic, odd group, this unusual family unit of sorts — and an unexpected one. I had expected to live my life beginning at age 50 in a relatively self-interested manner. I hope “self-interested” doesn’t mean “selfish,” but it might. Because my mother was dead, I was divorced, and I never had any biological children, I figured I would spend 20+ active years writing books, traveling overseas, and enjoying my twilight days in a carefree, convivial manner. The plan was to focus on the nourishment of the self — that is, myself. I thought it was entirely possible, albeit improbable, that I might one day meet a lady of suitable age and discretion to share those years with me. I’m an impoverished, boring old fart, but I may have the juices left for one more romance before I shuffle off this mortal coil.
Emma was born on November 22, 2013
The new family dynamic changes everything.
I cannot say I am disheartened by this unanticipated turn of events, nor am I ecstatic. I honestly don’t know how I feel. My family and friends marvel at my willingness to take in these young ones, but I seldom feel worthy of much approbation. Some days I bask in the warm glow of family and generational love. On other days, I am frightened by the massive responsibility. Am I up to the task? Am I strong enough — physically, emotionally, and financially — to help rear these children in the manner they deserve?
Whatever I can say about it, the arrival of these little ones changes the trajectory of my life.
You know what, though? The trajectory of lives is meant to be changed. Who wants to fall into a boring old routine? Maybe I have been stuck in a rut. Maybe I need to live for someone besides myself. Maybe life is (or should be) about performing a service for others.
My pledge is to show these children a brave face. Whatever ambivalence or misgivings I feel about this new life, I will greet them with a cheerful exuberance. Perhaps one day in decades to come, Ellie and Emma will read these words in some form. I want their reaction to be, “wow, I had no idea the old man was anything other than thrilled at the situation.” If that happens, I will feel it was mission accomplished.
And so at night, when the children lay down their heads on their respective pillows and drift away, I take stock of how much in my life changed in 2013. I lost two people important to me—my aunt Polly, and my former mother-in-law, Linda. I also took in two grandchildren of tender years. I came to a rapprochement of sorts with my ex-wife. What a terribly alien landscape I now inhabit.
When I lay this 50-year-old body down to rest and marvel at the new aches and pains that were not present a few weeks earlier; when I replay the argument over whether a four-year-old can eat Laffy Taffy for breakfast instead of the nutritious meal I planned; when I go online and search the bank account for extra money to pay for the day-care tuition, infant formula, disposable diapers, and child’s new winter coat as my salad days slip away from me; when I ponder origins and destinies of my loved ones — I always ask myself one searing question: Would I do it all over again if I had the chance to reconsider my decision to take in these children?
Absolutely. There is no hesitation. We do God’s work within these four walls. No regrets live in this house.
But a grumpy old man lives here...An aching, poor, grumpy old man. Yet, strangely, he is happy, too, this grumpy old man. Go figure.