He called from the bottom of the stairs, "Hey Mom, come here for a minute, no wait, I'll come up there." He knew I was tired and the day hadn't even begun yet. I fatigue easily some days. It's the cancer, but we don't like to talk about it. I try to be energetic, and believe it or not, sometimes I can pull it off. Not today. There's something about the color of my face, the lack of sparkle in my eyes, the look that says, "I really want to listen but I just need to rest." 

He found me sitting comfortably in my easy chair at my computer in the living room. "Remember? No, you probably don't because of your memory," and then he had difficulty finishing what he meant to say. I wasn't sure if it was because he wanted to show me what he was holding, or because he was upset that he knew I was very tired, or maybe both. He's a very sensitive man of 30, and he's sad most of the days now because of our situation. Few things break up the darkness for him, maybe a silly remark will send him on a fit of laughter for a while, but then he's back to thinking deeply about my illness, and what will happen to me, and where his grandmother will live.

He showed me a Norman Rockwell print from a calendar, called "Breaking the Ties." It was very important to him that I remember this particular painting. To my astonishment, I did. I have amnesia for significant blocks of time in my life, up to decades. Sometimes a simple thing like a photo, or a letter, or a story will bring to mind a small part of a memory, out of its proper chronology, but nonetheless, welcomed after such a long time lost.

I stared at the young man of about seventeen in the painting. A suitcase was at his feet. He was looking beyond his father's head, anxiously waiting for a bus. His dog was resting his chin on the young man's knee. His father let the cigarette dangle carelessly, and stared at the ground. He wore working clothes, a laborer, maybe a mechanic.

Jim asked if I really remembered. "Yes. You bought this print in a glass frame for Mike when he was going off to Harvard."

It was awkward for us to linger over something this familiar now.
Families are supposed to stay together. Michael was supposed to come back from college every Thanksgiving, be a brother, a son, a grandson. Methodically he disowned the family with each Hallmark card.

The man we loved for different reasons was not supposed to die at 59 and leave a young widow of 38, a boy of 17 going off to college without shedding a tear, and the other boy of 11, burying his pain any way he could find.

The duchess who bound this family together is no longer with us. We thought she would be here until she died. We made the promise to her, and we could not keep it.

The cycle of life continues. We are at this juncture once again, breaking the ties.

In Loving Memory of my sons.
© Angelina Lenahan, 2008, "Breaking Ties, Breaking Promises"