There's been much discussion recently of helicopter parents and concerns that they're stifling the ability of young people to weather disappointment. We fear this generation lacks resilience, the ability to rebound from even the smallest crisis. But an experience recently where I encountered the perseverance of a 13-year-old gave me hope, and reminded me that young people are often stronger than we realize.
Just after my husband and I married and settled in Washington, D.C. 29 years ago, my mother phoned with a request that was more like a demand. She insisted that we meet a young, newly married couple, Martin and Lisa Silver, who had moved to our area. He was the child of friends they met on their honeymoon. He and my husband were both lawyers. We would have so much in common, she said. I responded to this as I do to many of my mother's suggestions. I ignored it. But she persisted, leaving a wedding gift for them when she visited us. "Please deliver this to them," she said. Grudgingly, we met them. I had to admit my mom was right. They immediately became among our closest friends.
In Martin, my husband, Scott, found a soul mate born just a day before him, whose wry sense of humor made him a constant source of entertainment and who enjoyed rooting for his favorite sports teams. Scott saw in him a refreshingly honest person with a heart of gold, someone who would always be there for you. His wife, Lisa, a Texas native, complimented my inherently skeptical nature; she was persistently cheerful and perpetually optimistic. There was the magic that happens when married couples connect. We spent oodles of time with them. We vacationed together. And then, three years later, we decided to move back to the Midwest to be closer to our families and they moved to Dallas to be near hers. We vowed to see each other often and initially, we kept that promise. They visited us two weeks before I gave birth to my first child and we visited them two years later.
But then, as they went on to have two children and we had two more, life got in the way. We never met their kids. Our contact was limited to annual holiday cards and occasional phone calls, conversations that were tinged with sadness and regret that they didn't live closer.
Three years ago, my husband got a phone call from a friend of Martin's telling him that Martin had died of a heart attack while in St. Louis at his daughter's field hockey tournament. He was only 50 and his daughters were 10 and 17. We were stunned. There never seemed to be an urgency to visit before. We presumed they both would always be there, as their life continued in the comfortable family rhythm just like ours.
Out of town at the time, we were unable to properly mourn. We couldn't attend the funeral but promised Lisa, in tearful phone conversations, that we would visit her soon. Three years passed until we received an invitation to her daughter, Mia's, Bat Mitzvah this past summer and immediately decided to go. Twenty two years was long enough.
The large Temple was filled to capacity with hundreds of friends and family members -- a cloak of warmth and support that had sustained the family since Martin's death. What I witnessed on that day was not a shy, tentative pre-teen but a confident young woman. Mia gave a speech explaining how her Hebrew Torah portion applied to her life, focusing on the theme of vulnerability. She said that everyone feels vulnerable at one point or another and said when her dad died, she felt the vulnerability of not knowing what comes next, "the sadness and hopeless feeling that I would never hear my dad's laugh again." When she was vulnerable, she remembered the gratefulness she felt to all the people around her. "When my mom, sister and I were surrounded by friends and family, I would just hold onto that feeling of not being alone, the fact that there were people out in the world that wanted to help. I started to find the blessings in ordinary days." She said this helped her to move forward and focus on helping her mom and her sister. When you lose someone, "life is never the same, but you can be okay and life keeps going," she said. "While my Dad and others may not be with us here physically, they will always be in the back of our hearts, pounding us along."
Her mother, muffling sobs, then addressed Mia. "You are so much like your Daddy and of course, I love that about you. I know he is as proud of you today as I am," she said. She added that even at the tender age of 10, she didn't rage about the unfairness of losing her father. Instead, Mia "took care of our family by asking for friends to come over every night at bedtime so the house wouldn't feel so empty. You took care of me by reassuring me all the time. You told me that we had to be okay so Daddy would be okay and at peace." Mia's older sister, Megan, applauded Mia for staying strong for the family. "I want to be just like you when I grow up," Megan, now 20, told her much younger sister.
Toward the end of the service, the Rabbi informed the congregation that when Mia received her Bat Mitzvah date, it coincided with the anniversary of her father's death. Her mother told her she did not need to tangle her happy milestone with the death of her father and she could pick a different date. Mia instead chose to proceed. By having her Bat Mitzvah on the anniversary of her father's death, he'll be with us even more, she said. So at the end of the service, the congregation chanted a prayer in remembrance of Martin's passing.
There were sniffles among the congregants throughout this emotional and moving service, but none louder than those of mine and my husband's. We, at last, had the chance to mourn Martin for the first time. Since Martin's death, I've attended funerals for three more men in their fifties who were close to us, who left their families and young children far too soon, one just a few weeks before his daughter's Bat Mitzvah. We all experience moments throughout our lives which catapult us, shake our foundations, and force us to re-examine our priorities. The question we always ask when tragedy strikes is how can we go on? How can you continue when your life is turned upside down in just a moment? It's almost impossible to imagine. Three years after Martin's death, the memories are still raw and Lisa's tears still flow. But she knows, for the sake of her children, she has to persevere, and much of that she's learned from her young daughter, Mia.
Mia's words have inspired me, and give me hope that we have the strength within us to carry on, even in times of greatest crisis. Her wisdom helped turn this weekend into the happy time she deserved. And at the same time, it was also a celebration of a man who, despite his too early passing, left a wonderful legacy: a wife and two daughters who will make him proud, by soldiering on through the darkness, into the light.
My mother forced us to meet Martin and Lisa by leaving a wedding present for them. But, in turn, she gave us the greatest gift -- decades of a precious friendship that has now taught us so much about bouncing back from adversity.