Tammy Swift, Published September 21 2013
Swift: Tough times bring gratitude for support network
Bitterness? Check. Self-pity? I’ll take the economy size, thank you. Fear? Make mine a double, barkeep!
But gratefulness? Never.
And yet it’s one of life’s little ironies that at a time when I’ve felt the most unlovable, I’ve also been surrounded by love.
Friends have rallied. Strangers have come up and hugged me. Fellow divorcees took me out to coffee. A lawyer friend volunteered to help fill out our divorce paperwork, saving both of us thousands of dollars. My family showed up in Full Swift Steamroller Mode and moved me out of one house and into another.
My sister, Verbena, I might add, helped me move twice. She is my oldest sister and has always been like a second mom to me. She taught me how to play piano, take care of my nails and “blow-comb” my hair – a lifesaving
skill in the ’70s. She was the matron of honor in my wedding. And she was the one who sagely observed, midway through our marriage, that “you two don’t work together like a team. You’re more concerned about who wins.”
Upon hearing the marriage was over, Verbena flew into action. She gently uncurled me from the fetal position and helped me stand upright again. An efficient organizer with the energy stores of a gang of preschoolers, she helped pack the dozens of boxes that had once overwhelmed me. She made decisions I was too exhausted to make.
She cleaned and comforted and listened. When I made progress, she praised me ridiculously for it. “Way to get dressed, Tammy, and your shirt even matches your pants!”
When I had second thoughts, she cared enough to speak candidly. “You didn’t seem happy,” she said. “You didn’t seem like yourself. You became so withdrawn, and you blamed yourself for everything.”
Verbena did what big sisters do, and I will never forget it.
Another sister, Mabel, was equally as kind. She and her wonderful husband, “Junior,” took a week off work and flew halfway across the country to help me move. A gifted perfectionist who could out-bake, out-decorate and out-stitch Martha Stewart, she and Junior helped me paint and reupholster a dining room set. After she left, she mailed me a card. Inside it was a check for $1,000.
“I’m happy to help you out during this trying time,” she wrote. “There’s no rush to pay me back, and if you can’t pay me back, I know there will be a time in the future that I’ll need help and you’ll be there. That’s what family is and does.”
My mother proved the old adage that a mom is only as happy as her least happy child. She worried about me constantly, even when I assured her that I would survive. She called almost every day. She listened to me rant or cry, and she told me she loved me. Over the four hours of highway that separated us, I could feel her love, her empathy, her concern. It was proof that a parent, on some level, never stops parenting.
During the weekend of my final move, my parents climbed into their Taurus station wagon and came to help me. I didn’t ask; they volunteered. Keep in mind, my parents aren’t spring chickens, or even summer chickens. My dad is in his 80s. When asked how he’s feeling, he routinely quips: “Let’s just say I’m not buying any green bananas.”
My mother is eight years younger but has macular degeneration and joint problems. And yet I could barely keep up with them.
My dad did all the expected “dad” things. He asked about my car and put together the most baffling of IKEA shelving with the “figure-it-out-come-hell-or-high-water” resolve of the farmer he is. An HVAC expert, he eyed my new furnace with skepticism, then deadpanned: “Well, I don’t see a brand name on it. They mustn’t be too proud of it.”
My mother unpacked and fussed and organized. She lamented my lack of good knives. (She needn’t have worried. I haven’t eaten anything except Triscuits and cereal since I moved here.) She tactfully and casually mentioned that there was a nice Catholic church “within easy driving distance” of my house.
From a medical perspective, my parents have maybe two good knees, three good eyes and one fully functioning heart between the two of them. From an emotional perspective, they have more heart than a roomful of people.
And so I’ll say it: I’m lucky. Not everyone has such a network of support. But for some reason, somebody up there likes me. And so I have been blessed with a whole web of people who care.
And for that, I am grateful.
Tammy Swift writes a lifestyle column every Sunday in Variety. Readers can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org