Leslie, wife to my baby brother, recently lost her mother. It was completely unexpected. Her mother was 57. She went to bed on a Friday night and did not wake up. The day they chose the casket was on Leslie's birthday, and they buried her mother on my mother's birthday.
At the wake and funeral, I expected sadness. I expected tears. I expected to see someone blown away by grief. I got all of that, but what I did not expect was to feel pride. I felt pride for my baby brother, pride for my parents, pride for my older brother and my sister, pride for my nephews. Neither my sister nor my older brother like crowds and small talk. But they were there. They stuck through the wake and the funeral and I know my baby brother noticed. We all doled out hugs and stepped in for little boys (my four nephews, ages 7 -14) who needed a lap and a hug when mama just couldn't do it anymore. My dad held the hand of his oldest grandson, 14 year old man-boy Colton, with such grace and ease that it made me cry. My mom, along with her ready lap, bought jumbo packs of lifesavers for all of my nephews anticipating that tiny surprises can lighten a mood and indeed, they did. Colton hovered around his grandpa, a man who attempted to receive the hundreds of mourners while accepting the loss of his beloved wife, holding his arm to steady him when his grief became too much. A day later, grandson and grandfather napped together after the exhaustion of the emotions set in. This man-boy, my nephew, was a sight to behold.
And my baby brother did just what I suppose people think a husband should do, which is to support his wife and family in every possible way during such a horrible time. But he did it with such a light touch and fierce love that it could be hard to watch. The boys had never seen their mama wracked by grief and my brother shouldered them all. He stepped away from his work for a week or more without a backward glance. This shouldn't be a big deal because he is doing what he needs to do, but it is more than that. He did it because he wanted to.
As a parent, it is easy to second-guess yourself. It is easy to wonder how things will pan-out, if the mistakes you think you made will manifest into something you live to regret. But from my birds eye view, I think my parents did pretty well. They raised kids who show up for each other, they produced kids who understand not only what love is, but what it looks like and how it moves through the world in an active way. And we all got to witness a son, my baby brother, as someone who isn't afraid to cry or let his own sons cry. They raised a man who honors what his wife needs and moves the heavens and earth to make that happen. They taught us that men feel as much as women and act accordingly.
In my world, a good man is riding a lawn mower in a hat and shirt designated for the task, painting a tractor John Deere green, listening to a patient, tossing a ball, reading a story, giving a hug, looking up the Latin names for bugs, casting a fishing line, playing a recorder duet for the 16th time, bottle feeding lambs, holding a grieving wife.
As painful as these days have been, gifts we can't yet know are being created. Little boys are growing
man-muscles, the most important one being their heart.