This is still a hard day for me. A hard few days, even after all this time.
Eight years ago I stood outside my insurance agent’s office. I was there for a routine purpose, but for a reason I don’t remember now, I was without a car and knew I had a few minutes before my ride would come. It was one of those blazing, startling pleasant days that Colorado likes to spring on us in January’s dead of winter. I remember lifting my face to the brilliance that was the sky that day. I remember considering going into browse at a furniture store across the parking lot. I remember the orange construction cones at the entrance of the nearby fire station.
It was my dad’s 83rd birthday. I didn’t go in and browse. I stayed outside and paced the sidewalk and called my mom to see how she was handling the day.
Nine months earlier I had been present when we moved Dad to a nursing home because his full-fledged Alzheimer’s made it no longer safe for my mother to care for him at home. But she visited frequently and had been to see him the day before with my sister and a piece of cake, and she thought he knew her.
In one of those fleeting intimate glimmers that we all hoped and prayed for every time we visited him.
But he didn’t eat his cake.
My dad was a lifelong proponent of eating cake for breakfast. For a bedtime snack. Just because it was cake.
So she thought maybe he was not feeling entirely well, but he was not able to articulate such sensations anymore. I tied up her home phone line for a good thirty minutes, with still no ride in sight. When we finally hung up and I stuck my phone in a pocket, I was startled to hear it ring two minutes later.
While we created a thirty-minute busy signal, the nursing home could not reach Mom and resorted to calling my sister, who lived nearby. Dad had collapsed and had been transported to a hospital. Right while we celebrated his passion for cake and strawberry ice cream. Right while I held him in my heart on his birthday.
He died three days later amid a gathering of hymn-singing family that far exceeded hospital visitor guidelines because he loved hymns and we are a stubborn bunch. And I tossed a handful of soil on his casket three days after that. Dust to dust.
I loved my dad. I was blessed that he loved me. I know not everyone gets to have that experience, and when I think of people I know who haven’t, I feel a peculiar kind of pain.
Two years later, during the same winter week, we held a similar vigil for my husband’s father. Our two fathers share a burial date. An odd thing. The Illinois ground was snow-clad and frigid on both occasions.
So this is a week of remembrance, of emotion, of fullness, of gratitude, of loss, of release, of quietness in spirit, of rejoicing, of missing, of longing.
I plan to wear my dad’s red flannel shirt as much as I can.
And I hope you have someone in your life, whether genetically related or not, who you feel this way about.