Roach: Cheaper by the dozen

"After wandering in the darkness with the loss of so many, there is now joy in the air. Instead of eulogies and wakes we have weddings, baptisms and puppies galore."
person holding a red photo album says Roach Family Album 2021
Courtesy of Getty Images

A few years back, our collective family hit a rough patch.

In just a handful of months we lost my wife’s sister, her mother, my father and my brother-in-law. We spent months stumbling between hospital rooms, care facilities, hospice, funeral homes and funeral masses.

The air was filled with eulogies. There was no sunlight, just the awful fluorescent lights of hospital corridors.

The experience was numbing and seemed to be without end.

Worse yet, when her sister, Mary, died, my wife Diane lost her closest sibling and best friend.

My wife and I come from big, sprawling, pre-birth control pill Catholic families. I have five siblings. She has six. We each spent our childhoods fighting for the last potato at the dinner table. Suddenly, instead of two thriving clans, we were becoming the incredible shrinking family. Such loss seemed against type. Unholy.

Then, slowly, things began to change.

First, nephew Dan got married in Florida. It was a joyous time marked by a poignant scene where Diane served as her sister’s stand-in for the mother-son dance. Not a dry eye to be found.

In short order, Dan and his wife had a baby girl. Now Diane — as fine a mom as there is — was not only the conscientious mother of her own three kids and virtual mom for her late sister’s three children, but a virtual grandmother to baby Marietta.

Diane took to the task with joy and diligence. During COVID-19 she FaceTimed the baby nearly every day. When she talked with Marietta and helped her identify cows and frogs and pigs and the sounds they made, she was acting not only for herself, but her late sister. The eyes welled when witnessing it.

Then, last summer, the plot thickened. Our own daughter Maggie married a strapping Irish lad from Long Island named Bryan. Thanks to the pandemic, it was the smallest wedding our family had ever seen. But a joy nonetheless.

Just five months later, Maggie and Bryan informed us that , for the first time, we were to be grandparents ourselves.

I was happy with the news. But the wife was transformed.

When it comes to money, Diane has always been frugal. As in cheap. But now, with a grandchild on the way, she is spending money like a drunken NBA rookie.

Suddenly, a nursery appeared in our house. In an instant our garage filled with rocking horses and strollers. Every time Diane leaves the house she returns with “a little something for the baby.”

A “little something” being a carload.

The spending has not been limited to a nursery. Diane decided that our little cabin up north needs a basement bedroom for the baby.

No problem.

She also deemed our leaking 20-year-old pontoon boat unsafe for a grandchild.

Boom. New pontoon. With a stereo!

The woman who used to buy three-day-old bread on special is now making it rain.

And that’s not all. Stand by … because you are going to need a scorecard for this litany.

First, daughter Kate got a rambunctious puppy to add to three other new dogs in the family.

Then, son JT got engaged. As did nephew Tone.

So that’s two more weddings.

After wandering in the darkness with the loss of so many, there is now joy in the air. Instead of eulogies and wakes we have weddings, baptisms and puppies galore.

We lost four family members — and then went about adding three daughters-in-law, two sons-in-law and, by last count, four dogs.

For a moment our family was dwindling and now our population rivals China’s.

As I sit amid the joyful madness and think of the losses that preceded it, I am impressed by two simple realizations.

First, for all the sorrow it holds, life is irrepressible.

And secondly, Diane is going to need more credit cards.

John Roach, a Madison-based screenwriter and producer, writes this column monthly. Reach him at