When I was 19, I wrote my third song ever. It was a tribute to my parents, a paean of gratitude for how they had sacrificed for me, supported me, and loved me. It was sincere, and sincerely God-awful. When I listen back now (in my head only, mind you, for all copies are safely destroyed), I cringe at the sophomoric lyrics, the unimaginative melody, the cloying, awkward obviousness of it all. Surely I’ve come a long way, at least musically (hashtaggrammynominated).
Or have I?
Six years ago, my mother heard notes of despair in my voice over the phone, and my parents subsequently and without reservation packed up their things and sidelined their lives to move to Los Angeles to help us with our son as we grappled with a blindsiding reality. In the period since, they supported us as we worked our fingers to the bone and our minds to their wit’s end to leave no stone unturned in ensuring his future. They lifted us as we welcomed a second child into the world. They cradled me and my husband as we fought to remember each other in that essential, fundamental way that keeps a relationship solvent. They grew decades older with us, over the span of only six years. And when they were sure we would be okay, they stayed a bit longer so that we were all sure.
I said goodbye to my mother and father this month as they left LA to return to Chicago. I did not thank them.
What does it mean to thank someone verbally? And why can I never bring myself to utter those words to my parents, who are the most deserving of said thanks, while I feel comfortable declaring it to the (virtual) universe in the form of a blog?
Sometimes I chalk it up to culture. “Well in our culture, it’s just implied, and if you say it, it just makes a person feel uncomfortable”. Not an inaccurate sentiment. I can attest to receiving thanks from loved ones of a different culture and wanting to run the other way for discomfort. I mean, how do you thank your parents for being, well, your PARENTS?!
But in my case I harbor a different reason. Which is that the floodgates are holding by a fiber. The start of an expression of gratitude would release a torrent that would render me dysfunctional, and in need of their support all over again. And I know my parents. They don’t expect the words. The two measly syllables that seem so comically inadequate that I would choke on them. The same two that are used when someone passes you the butter, for Pete’s sake.
I gaze at the two empty wine glasses on the table that they left the last night they were here. They will visit often, but that last night weighed with the significance of this departure, setting it apart from all the others. The achievement it symbolized. Like parents dropping their child off to college. Except I’m nearly 37, and this was so much harder.
Nearly twenty years after writing my first songs, I’m still awkwardly fumbling for the right words.