My step mother Diane Lowenstein died in her bed this morning while Dad was fixing her breakfast downstairs. She had just turned 70 years old in May.
Diane was extraordinarily courageous and unfailingly cheerful in dealing with the various illnesses that were a constant part of her life during much of the 24 years she and Dad shared with each other. She treated Dunreith and Aidan as family from the first time they me. I feel fortunate that Dunreith had the privilege to be with Diane last Wednesday through Saturday as they both treasured each other’s company.
I wrote the following letter to Diane last August, when it was clear she was failing, and wanted to share it here.
We will miss her.
This is a note of gratitude from me to you.
There are many gifts that you have given me for which I would like to thank you.
To begin, there are the many individual instances of kindness and generosity you have shown me.
These have ranged to giving me money when the auto repair bill from McKinnon Motors was far more than I had expected to paying the $275 towing fee I received when I ran in to get the two of you at O’Hare and the tow truck had carried my car away by the time we returned with your luggage to inviting me instantly to stay with Dad and you for the summer after Jen and I broke up in 1998.
I want you to know that I remember and appreciate what you did for me in each of those instances.
In addition to how you have treated me, I am also grateful to you for how inclusive you have been of both Dunreith and Aidan since the beginning of my relationships with both of them.
As I mentioned this past week in Rockport, Aidan described the time you let him buy one of every item at Tuck’s as one of the greatest moments of his life. His answer to your questions about why you don’t share food with Dad-here he said you were greedy, before hearing your explanation and then declaring, “I see. First, you were greedy. Then he’s greedy. It’s a family tradition”-and to why you would tell him the chandelier at Rockport was worth $1 million instantly became part of family legend, and deservedly so.
But we talk much less about how you took his telling you that you were alternately greedy and untrustworthy in stride, and, far from taking offense, laughed at it.
In a different way, you have also welcomed Dunreith as a full member of the family from the first time you met. She cares deeply about, and very much values, your relationship.
Of course, by accepting and welcoming them, you were endorsing and supporting my choice and my emerging identities as a husband and father.
This includes letting us stay in Rockport as a couple and as a family.
Thank you for that, too.
You also helped me when I was teaching.
I incorporated the retake and rewrite option that one of Elizabeth’s teachers had used at Winsor and eventually came to realize that you were right when you said that children could, and indeed did, lie.
I’ve learned from how you have defined yourself as belonging to a family of strong women-I very much enjoyed knowing your mother in the times that we were together and wish that I had met Aunt Clara as she sounded like a true gem-and from how you have handled all the inconvenience, uncertainty, pain and boredom from your various illnesses with dignity, grace and unfailing good cheer.
When I lived in Kentucky, Bobby Simpson would take a radio and a pillow with him on the many long trips he took to collect food and clothing for the Cranks Creek Survival Center. He would talk about how much he relished sitting on that pillow and listening to that radio. “I may not have a lot of money,” he’d say. “But I live rich.” You, too, have shown that same attitude toward dealing with the many health challenges you have faced.
I have mentioned each of these areas in which I have learned from you and for which I am grateful before talking about the joy you have given Dad and the influence you have had on him because I want to be clear that I think about and know you separately from, as well as in connection with, him.
That said, your contributions to his happiness, emotional development and sense of inner peace have been enormous. While the beginning of your relationship unquestionably created turmoil for me, it is also true that Dad has been happier, more relaxed and more connected than he was before the two of you were together.
He told me during our walk to Mom’s house this past weekend how much joy had brought to his life, making the point both that you two had had many years together and, beyond that, that he feels particularly fortunate because in the half-century he was alive before you two were together he did not know that such a deep love was even possible. He has shared similar thoughts with me many times during the past 20-plus years, and also told me that you helped him feel understood in a way that he also never had had before.
These contributions alone would be enough to earn heavy if not unending doses of gratitude from me, and I want to be clear, too, that I realize and appreciate that you have encouraged Dad as a father to continue to repair and then strengthen his relationships with Mike, Jon and me.
He has done that work, even though it has been hard at times, and our improved relationship has helped me be a better and more available father to Aidan, too. Thanks for that, too.
I know that you have been having a very tough time medically and have started talking with us about confronting your own mortality, and possibly doing so sooner rather than later. I also know how you try as a matter of principle to maintain a positive and cheerful public and private space.
I in no way am trying to tell you how to handle yourself, but simply am saying that Dunreith and I are here for you to talk if you would like to do so, and to say further that you need not feel compelled always to act in such a positive way. I have learned in my own life that it can be a gift to let people be there for you when they recognize a need, and am offering that availability from Dunreith and me should you want and choose to avail yourself of it.
That’s about it for me. Thanks again for everything you have given me, Diane, and know that we are here for you.