Short Story Friday, “The Embrace”

Note

This is the second short story I’ve written for the study I’m leading on Jesus’ Beatitudes, Meditative Fiction. It’s based off of Matthew 5:3-4.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted. (NRSV)

The Story

Oscar glanced across the room, where his mother was sitting by herself. She had sunk herself deep in her favorite chair and looked down upon her grandchildren as they told stories on the floor using action figures based on a recent movie. There was the hint of a smile on her face, but the tears trailing down her face betrayed the presence of other emotions. Every few moments his mother would raise a tissue to her cheeks and wipe away the moisture, but it was always soon replaced.

“I just don’t know what to say, anymore,” he whispered.

Oscar’s sister nodded as she murmured back. “I know. I mean, we all miss him, but it’s been ten months of crying. Mom’s not living. Dad wouldn’t want her to be like this.”

“I know. Dad wanted her to enjoy herself,” Oscar replied.

“I makes me uncomfortable. I mean, it’s Thanksgiving, can’t she let herself be happy? Just for one day.”

Oscar sighed. “It would be so nice to have mom back to normal for the holidays. This just can’t be healthy.”

The siblings shifted to silence, pondering their mother’s fragile state as she again raised the tissue to wipe away her tears. The cousins, who had been playing on the floor oblivious to the emotional state of their elders, took notice of the deeper quiet and paused their play. Oscar’s son saw his grandmother wiping away another face full of tears and stood up. His face wrinkled with confusion he asked, “MiMi, why are you crying?”

Oscar sat forward in alarm, this was precisely what he’d wanted to avoid. “Sam, that’s not appropriate. Leave MiMi alone and go back to playing.”

“But MiMi is sad.”

“MiMi doesn’t want to be bothered right now…”

“Well, I think that MiMi rather would like to be bothered. If it’s all the same to you, son.”

The siblings shifted their gaze to their mother, who eyes flared with a defiance they’d never before seen.

“Mom, I was just…”

“I know what you’re ‘just,’ the two of you. And I love you dearly,” she shook her head. “But you don’t understand.”

Oscar’s mother leaned forward and reached out a hand to her grandson. “I’m crying, Sam, because I think you’re beautiful. I love hearing the stories you cousins make up, they’re so unique. And I’m crying because I’m grateful for the love this family has for each other and all the blessings we share. And I’m crying because I see so much of PopPop in all these things and it makes me miss him all the more—even though when I look and listen I see him all around us. Do you understand?”

Sam offered a sage nod to his grandmother, and tears began to trail down his own cheeks. “I miss PopPop, too, and I’m sorry you’re sad.” With that, he reached up and enveloped his grandmother as well as he could with his small arms. MiMi closed her eyes, fresh tears now dripping down her face, and pulled her grandson close. A great smile emerged as Sam’s cousin rose from the floor and joined the hug.

Oscar and his sister stared at the scene with awe, and not little bit of jealousy. They’d each grieved in silence for the last ten months, wanting to stay strong for their mother and their children. They’d gone to work, went to games, and took vacation—all in the name of “getting back to normal.” But the ache which had formed after their father’s death was still there, a bruise in their hearts that just wouldn’t go away.

The truth was they each had wished someone had embraced them they way their children were now embracing their mother. They’d just never been comfortable enough to ask for it. And seeing the joy on their mother’s face, even in the midst of her tears, they realized how poorly they’d treated their only remaining parent. As tears began to form in their own eyes the siblings stood up and crossed the room. They joined the embrace.

“I love you, mom,” Oscar whispered.

“I miss dad so much,” his sister added.

MiMi grasped her children’s hands and squeezed. “But we are so blessed. Never forget it.”