Moving On by Sharon O’Donnell

This week has been an interesting one. Monday I volunteered for my very last school book fair! Since there is a 9 year gap in between my oldest son and my third son, I’ve basically been volunteering in elementary schools since 1996. My youngest son is now in fifth grade and will be moving on to middle school soon where they don’t have Book Fairs. Thus, this was my last book fair. I actually kind of hated to leave when my shift was over because I suddenly felt nostalgic about it all. When I got in the car, I called a friend of mine who also has three sons who are rather spaced out in years (her oldest is 21 and her youngest is in second grade) and when she answered the phone, I simply said, “I just volunteered at my last book fair!” She laughed, knowing full well the meaning of my words. One mom to another. Then on Wednesday, I volunteered on my last elementary field trip. Don’t know why the book fair and field trip came so close together, but it made for an eventful week and one that became rather emotional for me.

Even if they have a rare field trip in middle school, usually the kids don’t want their parents there. So my son’s 5th grade class trip to the North Carolina State government complex in downtown Raleigh was indeed — my last one. I had a public relations project I was working on, and my middle son had two baseball games that week, and I was trying to recruit donations for food for my middle son’s Senior Class Breakfast — I really didn’t have the time to spend a whole day on a field trip. I thought about telling the teacher a few days before that I wouldn’t be able to help out after all, but I never did. And I’m glad I didn’t. The night before the field trip, when my youngest, Jason, was drifting off to sleep, he said groggily, “Thanks for volunteering tomorrow, Mom.” Those words made it all worth the trouble. I’m grateful I was able to volunteer for such things with all three of my boys.

Then to add to the bittersweet feeling of the week, I also saw my ex-brother-in-law for the first time in decades. He married my oldest sister back when they were around 20 years old, and I was only 9. I had adored him. He had a wonderful sense of humor, and everyone loved to be around him. After five years of marriage, he asked for a divorce because he simply didn’t want to be married anymore. I will never forget the odd, empty feeling I had, knowing that he walked out of our lives after being such a huge part of them. It affected my perspective on relationships a great deal, as I was always afraid to give my trust too easily. Prior to this past week, I had seen him only once more, and that was when I was in high school, several years after the divorce. It felt good to see him again, to hear his voice. My two sisters and I (including my sister who is his ex wife), exchanged stories with him and talked about memories. When he spoke of the dog — a long haired dachshund — that they had as a couple that got hit by a car and died several years into their marriage, his eyes immediately teared up. I’d loved that dog, too — so much so that when my own kids wanted a dog back in 2004, we got a long haired dachshund. I shared this with my ex-brother-in-law, and he told me that he had two long haired dachshunds. Wow. Some memories about one’s life certainly have a lasting impact.

My sister remarried long ago and still is married today, with 3 grown sons. And those long ago memories of the times spent with my ex-brother-in-law were vague to her — Oddly, I could remember some things she could not. But I’m sure it felt strange for her to see him again. We were all there together at a memorial service for her ex’s brother — a person we also knew well back then. We had all been like family then — even the ex’s brother went with us on vacation once. Now almost 40 years later, we came together again after being apart for so long, experiencing the ups and downs of life. It was reassuring in a way. Even though my ex-brother-in-law had disappeared from my life, he had still been out there somewhere, still making people laugh, still being him. And my sisters and I had been being us, had been living our lives. Life had gone on, despite what had then been a devastating divorce.

Whether it’s book fairs or field trips or indelible memories about a former family member, the bitter does come with the sweet. And life has a way of working out even when we move on.

  1. One Response to “Moving On by Sharon O’Donnell”

  2. Your story of your ex-brother-in-law slightly reminded me of an interaction I had with my Father-in-law this past weekend. My husband and I are going through a divorce, yet my Father-in-law pulled me aside when we were all together watching my son at a karate ceremony, and he said, “You know you are the only one…the others can’t even compare, (meaning my other two sister-in-laws, whom he can’t stand)”. He then said, you will always be my only daughter, now and forever. I replied that he will always be my Father-in-Law forever too. Then we hugged. It felt really nice that during a time of tremendous turbulence, some relationships still maintain bonds that endure.

    By Cara Meyers on Apr 2, 2012