Sometimes the future arrives a little earlier than you expected.
And our sons and daughters are given a clear choice: embrace it, or don’t.
It really is something to be called upon to assume the mantle of maturity and family responsibility before you would normally be required to.
That’s what I was thinking the other day as I took in a scene loaded with everything you could want from a family gathering, and some things you would rather not have to consider.
But, hey, life is like that.
There was celebration – it was a birthday.
There were the vivid stories you would expect from all the shared histories present, there was glorious food prepared and brought by the many hands and there was the soft peal of easy laughter – it was a party!
One of those rare and splendid events where you could have joined any of the group tables dotted around the large drawing room and have savoured a completely different but equally wonderful hour or two.
Then there was the unspoken pathos – the party was in honour of someone very special in our lives who was has been through a really rough time with illness.
There was love, hope and optimism despite all wafting through the vast rooms of a spectacular house in one of Dublin’s more salubrious parts – as the ultimate in life-affirming – nay life-enhancing – experiences unfolded in the face of some of the most serious crap that life can throw at you and those you cherish most.
And then there were the children – not just the usual kids running around and having fun – but young adult children still revelling in their gilded youth but showing their parents and the assembled family friends they were comfortable with that mantle of obligation and responsibility – and having fun.
For these were the youthful purveyors of a practical love displayed in the doing.
With no loss of joy, energy or spirit. And dressed the while in chic evening dress and heels or cool T-shirt and trousers, as preferred.
The future? Yeah, we can handle it, they seemed to be saying. And how!
Two of these children in particular were the ones who took the reins and allowed us oldies to just relax, be silly, have fun, and just enjoy the party. Another one was present and content to sit back and enjoy it all with his family, while the fourth was off in Vietnam plotting the next leg of his own journey of discovery.
The two, our cherished friend’s youngest and oldest, devised and ran the wonderfully challenging and amusing treasure hunt around Dublin city centre that began the proceedings and mingled easily with their wandering elders, leading and directing without appearing to.
Like we grown-ups are more used to doing for them.
And the mantle of maturity and family responsibility looked good on them.
Extreme sickness and the efforts of a family to deal with it are personal stories, and the particular story of our friend’s illness is not mine to tell.
It would not just be indiscrete it would also imply a centrality to the drama that would be utterly misleading.
She is a dear, dear friend, but one I see all too rarely, especially while the real stuff was playing out. I was merely moved and delighted to have been invited along with my wife on this special day.
Rather I am thinking now of the next generation of a family and how they have been dealing with their mother’s illness.
Or rather offering some impressions based on impressions. And hugely influenced by my own family dramas. Especially relating to my own children.
I am pondering one of the great delights of the whole experience: observing filial love and affection join with competence, and their parents’ pride evident in every gesture and glance.
And it filled me with hope.
The grown-up cubs had gathered round their lioness – and the lion – when the former had fallen ill, and are helping with her continuing recovery: researching diets alongside the pragmatic lion, screening visitors, accompanying Mom on her walks and retreats … and the 101 things that need doing when a parent has been seriously ill.
The eldest is a father himself, married, a home-owner and all of that, and I could just see him there on the evening of the party, sitting in the background and claiming no status, but so obviously central to it all.
Carrying his mantle with an easy grace and well up to the challenge
All too soon my own children will be that age, I was thinking, and I could see them embracing their future.
Now I would like to be sound in wind and limb when the time comes to pass on that mantle of maturity and family responsibility.
But I allowed myself the fantasy of imagining our K and O donning their mantles.
They will certainly look good in evening dress and heels, or cool T-shirt and trousers, as they choose.
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