Celebrate Life: Being Alive, In Itself, Is A Holiday.
It’s Easter tomorrow, and I don’t recall ever really giving a serious crap about Easter until I had children.
In my opinion, between the time one is a child and the time one has children in one’s life again, either through parenthood or through friends or siblings, holidays like this aren’t considered top-notch — especially for secular girls like me.
Certainly there are traditions besides going to church that one can partake in this time of the year. Like gathering with family (my parents are Christian) for honey-baked ham and scalloped potatoes.
Or instead for Passover (my husband’s side of the family) for a delicious brisket and some noodle kugel.
I was lucky enough to have been included in both, but it wasn’t until I got to be the Easter Bunny that it mattered to me much as an adult.
My mother-in-law, Arlene, converted to Judaism when she married my father-in-law, Gerald.
My husband, Andrew, liked to say, “The conversion didn’t take,” because his sweet mother would utter things like “Don’t use the Lord’s name in vain” when Andrew would say “Jesus Christ!” after stubbing his toe or some other worthy affliction.
It was for this reason that Andrew, who was bar mitzvah’d at 13, claimed to be an atheist when I met him. After the first of our four children was born, he migrated to agnosticism.
He admitted that, having been adopted, while he absolutely loved his parents like, well, parents, he always felt he was not biologically connected to anyone or anything.
Becoming a dad for the first time was the first time he ever looked into the eyes of another being and saw something familiar.
That’s not totally true, actually… He saw something familiar in a local tennis pro in Brentwood, who was too young to be his father. A brother, perhaps?
And he felt connected with David Letterman through his humor in the early ‘80s and thought, “Daddy?” Later, he even drove a Honda with a license plate that read: L8NIGHT. We still have it in a box with articles and letters and a lifetime worth of miscellany.
A short lifetime. Too short. Andrew died on March 1st of 2012, and he was only 43.
He left behind four amazing children, a wife (me), his sister (and somewhat of a soulmate), Tracey, both of his parents, countless friends and loved ones.
Even the pharmacists at our local Ralph’s Supermarket sent a condolence card signed by each and every one of the staff.
He used to run out for a quick errand and return a full hour later because he got into a political debate with the pharmacist.
“But you weren’t even supposed to go near the pharmacy, hon! We only needed diapers,” I’d plead while holding a baby wrapped in a dish towel.
Our local florists gave me a CD after he died. The cover was decorated in Andrew’s own handwriting: Top 10 songs of the 1980’s, and he had listed them one by one. He used to go in there to buy me flowers for every occasion, and it was there, again, that he’d get caught up in conversation for an hour. This time not about politics but about his other mistress, music. He had given the two sisters who worked at the Westwood Flower Garden an assignment because he felt a kinship with them over their love for the same genre of 1980’s British New Wave. Later, after they had prepared and delivered countless arrangements to my home from all of our family and friends and many of Andrew’s associates, the sisters gave me a copy of the CD they compiled for our children — with their dad’s handwriting on the cover. I have it, and intend to copy it three more times (one for each of them) before CDs become obsolete.
My father, Orson, and Andrew — after 20 years of holidays and birthdays and tears and laughter shared with each others’ families — were family as much as any of us.
Sometimes, when Andrew went out for diapers, I’d find that he stopped at my dad’s house for a chat… a two-hour chat. How could I complain that my husband was taking a side-trek without my knowledge to see, of all people, his father-in-law?! Not sexy. Not scandalous. But true. And beautiful.
So much of what may have irked me slightly then feels so trivial now. In my defense, I was hormonal, in the postpartum sort of way, off and on for about a decade. So Andrew escaped, at times, to relate to another sane human being: a pharmacist, a florist, a father-in-law, a friend, the cashier at In-N-Out, and God knows who else.
He was a social creature. A man. A real man with real concerns (five of us), a business, a mortgage, car payments… and he escaped sometimes to the ears of people who didn’t speak gibberish and baby talk.
And I don’t blame him. But I did back then. I did blame him. And I would do anything to take it back. To bring him back to all of us.
My seven-year-old can’t sleep tonight. Not because he is too excited about the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy arriving on the same night. He tells me he can’t sleep because something feels wrong.
I know the feeling… that something or, more accurately, someone is missing, and will forever be missed.
However, I don’t know if, by telling him the truth, I am planting an idea in his young mind that will leave him forever sad on these special occasions — like Easter and birthdays and Christmas.
I have been telling myself there is something wrong with feeling like something is wrong all the time. Why? Why can’t I just let myself accept that it will never be the same again?
Maybe if I do, I can find a new way to feel less wrong and less wronged. I just want to feel alright. Not perfect. Not happy even. Just okay.
I thought, more than once, of following Andrew. I need to say it out loud because it’s true. I thought of it. I would never do it.
Obviously I didn’t, or something really freaky is happening here because you are reading this… I would never, ever, do it.
My kids have saved me countless times, from my own fractured soul, and they continue to do so every single day. They don’t even know it — how much they heal me.
With each birthday, with each toothless smile, with each I love you, Mommy… with one, in particular, who tells me often, “You’re the best mom I ever had…,” they save me. And heal me daily. They help me feel just a little bit more alright.
I will tell them tomorrow. On Easter. And on other days too. Not just on birthdays and Christmas, but often. Because they need to find a way to feel alright too.
In the year following Andrew’s death, his parents also died… first Arlene, and then Gerry.
Gerry was always a gentleman raised in the Silent Era, and he was so well-mannered that he hung on so much longer than even remotely reasonable, given his poor health.
He waited until she went ahead of him, and then he followed shortly thereafter.
I miss Andrew even more now than I did before. I miss my mother and father-in-law too. I think the sense of loss is stronger now because I’m finally allowing myself to grieve.
Not that I didn’t crawl under the covers for months and months and let my wonderful, beautiful, selfless mother take the reins, but at some point early on I felt the need to keep moving forward.
For the sake of my kids, and for the sake of my sanity, I brushed a lot of emotion under the table, but it’s catching up with me now. I know I still have a long way to go. I know I have a lot of work to do to really start to feel normal again.
I have no choice, really. And for that I thank God. And for that I thank Andrew James Breitbart. In his honor, I will connect with others until I feel wholly connected… and, perhaps, holy connected.
In his honor, I may even find some kind of love again — some day. He would want me to, I think. He only ever wanted happiness and always put mine first. I see that now. I only wish I could tell him. And I can tell him. And I will tell him.
And I won’t wait until a special occasion to do so. I will do so every day. Because being alive, in itself, is a holiday.
When I started writing tonight, as part of my ongoing process of healing, I thought I would write about the significance of holidays and how we may relate them to loss.
Instead, I have written about loss in general, and how every day should be a holiday. Every day is hard, but holidays somehow serve as a reminder of the celebration of life.
And I will do my best to celebrate life. Andrew would have wanted me to. So I will try.
Susie Bean Breitbart is an artist, a mother and a survivalist with a poor sense of direction, but a fierce determination to keep searching for truth and happiness in this life. She finds that, through artistic endeavors such as painting, drawing, interior design and writing, she is starting to grow and heal in ways she never imagined possible.