We were a close-knit unit of four, Peter, me and my two kids. We sometimes chose each other over our extended family, especially when it came to our traditions of 4th of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. Sure, we got together with aunts, uncles, grandmas, and cousins, but we also chose, made a conscious decision, to create our own memories, just the four of us. Those memories included making a vow to be together, to the best of our abilities, on every 4th of July. Inviting friends and family who may not have a place to go over to Thanksgiving, to our house. And, of course, continuing my own childhood’s Polish dinner of Wigilla – a seven-course meatless dinner on Christmas Eve. All of these, just us. Just the four of us and any animal living in the house. Some years that meant over five critters.
Besides the traditions we established, we also went on vacations together. They weren’t great all the time, just most of the time. Yes, I got the crabbies from anxiety or feeling as though sometimes the vacations were an extension of my at-home mom status – the same job, different location. Yes, occasionally the middle school I-hate-everything tantrums of the kids came out. But, in the end, we had fun. We had a lot of fun. On Peter’s insistence, there was always a hike involved, and on mine, downtime. We explored, visited landmarks, ate at restaurants- a true luxury – and relaxed with games, books or naps. We drove most to most of our destinations so we spent a lot of time in the car, talking and laughing. Through the exhaustion, the fun, the fights, and the laughter, we became closer than we were before we left.
We were not your typical on-the-run suburban family either. Sure, my kids were involved in sports – okay, my daughter was – and in the theater – okay, my son was – and they had many school activities, friends, and community volunteerism. Peter worked evenings many times. But the one thing we made a conscious effort to do, is to eat almost every dinner, together. Sometimes a burger was thrown at them, or even spaghetti-O’s in a thermos, yet most of the time we ate as a family, at the dinner table. There, we shared – our day, our memories, our frustrations, our joys; we shared them all. And we bounded.
Peter gave his all to his family. He worked hard and bettered himself for the good of the family. Peter was our family’s Larry Bird. Strong, steady, worked hard, persevered and did so in a quietly. He received his Master’s degree in four years when the kids were very young with the objective to increase our finances for the good of the family. He worked long hours in a job he didn’t always like, but what propelled his exhausted body out of bed was knowing it was for his family. Despite his long hours, he still made time to attend a basketball game, watch a play, and eat dinner at the table. Although Peter said “I love you” sparingly and most times only when prompted, Peter’s love language was his sacrifice and his hard work for his family. And we all loved and respected this man for that. He was an important part keep our family’s machine moving, and moving along together. When he died, we stalled as a unit
With Peter’s death, each of us is suffering. My kid’s grief runs deep and strong and surges through them like an unwanted virus making it difficult for them to move. My grief is hard, raw, pure, complicated and is compounded by their’s and sometimes, I can’t move at all. Peter’s absence from our everydayness hangs over us and in us and we live in a fog that descends on our lives, affecting us each differently. He was such a part of us, part of our unit, and a part of that was amputated without warning, and without preparation.
There are so many unanswered questions about our future as a family now that our number has been reduced to three. I wonder sometimes how we will be, as a unit. Here’s what I do know. I know my adult children have learned and taken with them the lessons of dedication and hard work. I know I love my children differently, perhaps deeper, because of what we have gone through, what we continue to go through. I know Peter’s memories will keep up from falling apart. I know the core of who we are, what we are, as a unit is strong and will hold up. I know, we will fight to continue our traditions or develop new ones, still with the objective of keeping us together. And I know, the years of building a sound and powerful family unit has taken a brutal hit from Peter’s death, but the structure remains. We’re still standing, weakened sure, yet still there for each other.
We may no longer have vacations, traditions, meals together with Peter. We will, we do, feel his absence every day. And we are experiencing the worse tragedy we’ve ever faced as a family. But we’re still together, checking in, talking for hours, crying, even laughing. And when my daughter comes in next week, we will have a dinner or two together, perhaps a BBQ like we did on past Labor Day weekends. Maybe we’ll even plan a vacation in Peter’s name. When we are together again, I know Peter’s energy, wherever it is right now, will be strong from the pride of our family he helped build. With each step we take, as a family, nearer the other side, I am proud of us, whatever the outcome. I am proud to be part of the Tobolski-Dudak close-knit family unit. Even missing a strong link, we were built strong, and so the three of us together, well, I think we might really have this. Peter, wherever you are, please help us.