Discover the small joys in life
John and Mary Welch age in harmony with one another and their children
By Sarah Mundell
John Welch of Indianapolis watched with interest as the Butler and Notre Dame men’s basketball teams played their National Collegiate Athletic Association 2015 tournament game. He liked both of these native-Indiana teams, so he cheered for both, and was happy when Notre Dame won 67 to 64 in overtime.
This interest would sound pretty typical for someone from Indiana — typical unless you know John. As a musician, he never had time for or interest in sports. His trade brought him on various adventures, including playing with jazz musician Charlie Parker in New York, serving as assistant general manager of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, studying Music Composition with Aaron Copland and even collaborating with Charles Schultz to write the Peanuts Piano Books for children. Then, for more than 26 years, John was president and founder of Consort International, the world renowned makers of Sofia Violins.
So until a few months ago, basketball was not part of his usual repertoire.
What makes John cheer now for great three-pointers is the desire to strengthen his relationship with his children and grandchildren. “The key to the relationship with your children or any young people is to jump right in where they are,” he said.
Along with millions of other couples their age, John and his wife Mary are facing the challenges of “letting go,” a time when uncomfortable decisions to be made can create struggles within a family. Even if it’s not easy for them, together they try to see another side of it: to be open for something new.
If it were up to John, he would never have retired, but a stroke early last fall presented new circumstances that he had to accept. While he was in rehabilitation, his children came together from out-of-state and distributed his usual tasks among themselves: paying bills, keeping contacts, and so on. He was touched to see how they worked together, and he and Mary felt all their love in doing so. But it was still hard to not be part of it, and it required new trust on his part. “We took care of them when they were little, and now it is their turn to take care of us,” he said with a smile.
Over the next few months Mary, family and close friends gently kept saying, “It’s time, John,” helping him realize that now was the best moment to sell the business. A competent buyer was even ready to make an offer. After so many years in the industry, building a business that also tried to give back to the world, with so many relationships built, it was hard for John to think of putting it in someone else’s hands. His main concern was a future for his employees. Yet he had to agree that there was some truth in what his loved ones were saying, which helped him see a fuller picture, including that he could not risk losing this buyer by making him wait too long. So in December, at 80 years old, the decision to sell was made together.
What helped with the transition? John’s lifelong effort was to always recognize God’s plan behind the circumstances of every present moment. He is sure that in this moment, too — even if a struggle — God has a plan of love for him. He also realized that Mary — who this year had her third brain surgery to treat tremors — really needs him at home now.
Embracing this new moment and being open has led him to discover the pleasure of watching football and basketball. It is a way to share his children’s and grandchildren’s interests when they talk on the phone. “I have to admit,” he said, “I am even kind of enjoying it!”
In other moments of family life, this openness between generations has often meant knowing how to respect one another’s decisions, even as children learn to become parents. Mary recalls a time when one of her children was doing something she didn’t agree with for her grandchildren. At first she wanted to say something, but then she realized she had to respect her grown children’s ability to make their own decisions. And the situation with her grandchildren worked out fine in the end.
“Be quiet; let them talk,” says Mary. “If they ask for advice or comments, then that is the time to give it.”
Her children have reciprocated that respect. Earlier this year, when Mary was deciding whether or not to have brain surgery, her kids were very vocal about their support of whatever decision she made. She decided to go ahead with it, having consulted doctors, family and friends. Only later did she discover that John and some of her children were hesitant about her having the surgery. But they had wanted to leave her free to make that decision.
For John, listening is the key to staying open to other generations. “Don’t judge when they make mistakes,” he says. When one of their children got into some trouble with the police and called from jail, he didn’t give a lecture on the car ride home. “Who am I to throw a stone?” he says. Instead, he told his child about the time after he’d returned home for a visit when he was a jazz player in New York: he had gotten into some trouble celebrating too much at a party with some friends and ended up at the police station. Years later they would laugh about the time that he, too, “blew it” and had to start again. “Now this child is a wonderful parent!” he said.
The children, on their part, figure out ways to be helpful. When John had a trade show to go to, right before retirement, one of their sons took off the time to travel with him and make sure he would be okay. Another son’s wife used to be a teacher and is great at explaining what young people today are living, which they feel helps them connect better to the younger generation.
They are edified when their children and their families echo the life of love they are trying to live. For example, when one of the grandchildren wanted to get married in a park rather than in a church, one of their daughters-in-law had such a welcoming attitude that it helped John and Mary better live according to their own choice to always have a welcoming and open love toward each person.
John and Mary express deep gratitude for the life they have received through trying to live the profound, yet simple, spirituality of the Focolare. The best gift they have been able to give to their children is the presence of Jesus in their midst (cf. Mt 18:20). This reality resulting from their mutual love is a tangible presence in the family.
When it is disturbed by an expression of selfishness, it can be immediately renewed by restoring peace and love, and beginning again in the next present moment.
These gifts of relationship and mutual love give added strength, as the Welches embrace the new circumstances in their lives. Mary has to take several medications and be very precise with that. “Sorting pills for the week becomes a task,” she shares. “However, I see that’s now part of God’s will for me — so the best thing I can do right now.” This attitude is a sure remedy against bitterness and nostalgia; it helps both of them enjoy what they still can do, instead of thinking about what they cannot do anymore. And it is a gift for their children as well. They see how — despite new physical limits and moments of memory failure — their parents continue to love one another and others, even when it is not easy.
Sometimes the bridge has to be built in big decisions — like the one the Welches will soon be facing about whether or not to move closer to one of their children, probably to Chicago. Mary is more inclined to move soon, while they are still able to help. John doesn’t want to move until it is absolutely necessary. This is another opportunity to listen, trying to be open to one another’s ideas and offering opinions, ready to give them up if the other needs more time. After all, unity comes first.