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Dance Me to the End of Love (An Anniversary Tribute to my Parents)

Today, July 3rd, is my parents' 53rd wedding anniversary. The date has loomed on the calendar, slowly approaching, a date that my mother confessed would be hard for her because it is her first without my father. "Don't worry," I've assured her. "We will be together." I plan to take her to dinner, and perhaps we will watch the video I made for their 50th anniversary celebration (only 3 years ago). When I remember the night we celebrated their golden anniversary, surrounded by family in a private party room in a local restaurant, it's hard to think that such a short time later my father would no longer be here. But the love my parents shared will never be lost.

Growing up, that love was on constant display, from grand gestures my father made (like purchasing new jewelry for my mom or planning romantic vacations), to smaller, intimate moments the two of them shared (like standing around the kitchen island in the evening, my dad with his glass of Scotch and my mom with a glass of wine, sharing the details of their day).

And Saturdays were reserved for my parents' weekly date night. On those evenings, I sprawled on their bed with my brother, watching "The Greatest American Hero" while my mom got ready. A feeling of excitement and anticipation always accompanied those early evenings. For me and my brother, it was the anticipation of our babysitter (either Donna or Lisa, two teenage neighbors who, at the time, seemed so old to me) coming to stay with us. That usually meant a TV marathon of "Different Strokes," "Silver Spoons," "The Love Boat" and "Fantasy Island," staying up late snacking on junk food, and games of hide-and-seek. For my mom, though, it meant a night to reconnect with my dad and enjoy being a couple.

Watching my mom prepare for the evening was always magical for me. I loved to watch her move about her bedroom in a slip, styling her hair and putting on make-up and perfume before donning a nice outfit. My mother knew style. It may have been the '80s, but she dressed impeccably. Aside from the big hair and glasses, her taste in clothing was classic and elegant. Whether they were going to the movies or out for a nice dinner or to a formal event, my mother never looked anything but polished. It's funny because I don't remember my father getting ready. He was usually downstairs waiting for her at the bottom of the steps, a prince waiting for his princess. They always hugged us before leaving, telling us not to stay up too late (though my brother and I liked to stay up in bed until we heard them come home, then pretended to sleep when they came in to check on us). Then they were off.

I never realized how important those date nights were. Now, having been married myself for almost 25 years, I understand how important it is to reconnect with your partner, to take time for just the two of you. This was something that came naturally to my parents. They always put each other first. Even when they were surrounded by people, there was an energy between them, like magnets drawn to each other. When my dad came home from work, my mom was always there to greet him. They never missed a meal together, whether it was a family dinner with my brother and I, or breakfast in the morning before my father left for work. On school mornings, I would come downstairs to see them sitting across the table from each other sipping fresh coffee my dad always made, and reading the newspaper while passing plates of toast with sliced radish and cucumber or bowls of oatmeal topped with fresh fruit and granola between them. My mom accompanied my dad on business trips. My dad always gazed at her like she was the most important person in his life (that was magnified as his illness progressed).

And they were always holding hands.

Recently, when my dad was in hospice and I was over visiting, my mom pulled me aside. "I discovered a new song," she told me. "I want to show you." She pulled up a video on her iPad: Dance Me to the End of Love by Leonard Cohen. I watched the iconic performer sing seductively in his signature low, gravely voice. Two female backup singers swayed behind him. When they weren't on screen, the video showed older real-life couples holding hands, while photos of their younger selves appeared on a movie screen behind them. As the video came to a close, the couples became singles sitting next to empty chairs, staring at the vacant spots next to them. The meaning was clear. "This reminds me of your dad and I," my mom said softly, and I knew what she was thinking.

My father knew how to dance. He had natural rhythm and was unafraid to hit any dance floor. He often brought me out of my shell when I was too awkward or shy or embarrassed to dance at weddings or Bar/Bat Mitzvahs or the Odd Couples balls we attended at my high school. He took my hand lightly in his and coaxed me onto the dance floor, telling me to ignore everyone else and feel the music. And I did, often letting it flow through me. My parents loved to dance together. Sometimes, when they thought no one was looking, they would slow dance in the kitchen, their arms around each other. He was her constant partner, always at her side.

On my mom's first anniversary without my dad, I imagine that he is still beside her, silently holding her hand (though she might not be aware of it), guiding her through life like he did on the dance floor, loving her, waiting to dance with her again one day.

Extra content:

As I wrote this piece, I went back and watched the video I made for my parents' 50th Wedding Anniversary. If you like watching home movies, feel free to check out this montage. In re-watching the video, I realized how blessed my life has been, and it is thanks to my parents and the love they shared and always bestowed on us.


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