In my mind and heart, Dad is standing right in front of me. Strong, olive skin, gray eyes flashing at the spark of some deep thought or ready to deliver one of his famous lame jokes.
He’s larger than life and ready to take on the world.
This is the man who travels and reads poetry, who shares and lives every moment to the fullest. He’s the one who first said, “I’m going on a walk up into the hills so I can meditate on the Lord”, and my introverted heart leapt to know that being alone was worth seeking out.
He is That Guy.
Long ago, he wrote a poem about wanting to end the race with his “army boots worn out” We can see the holes today. The worn out leather and threadbare laces all splayed out.
But he’s still my Dad and the little girl in me wants to hear him talk about C.S. Lewis one more time, tell me another story about Tante Agnes and her motorcycle, plan a trip around the world…
Except, that man is only available now in flashes and memories. He’s slipping away, one moment at a time, and my sister says we should visit now before it’s too late.
What does that even mean?
“Before it’s too late?”
Before…. Too late… But, wait, that’s my father you are talking about, he’s an institution, and I’m not ready to be part of the changing of the family guard.
Getting old is a natural part of life, but as with many “natural” things it sure isn’t pretty. Oh, it has its moments of beauty, silvering at the temples, wisdom shared, hands once calloused and rough becoming smooth and soft while hearts that had been so busy with living become more reflective and tender to the little ones.
When I was eleven, Grandma lived with us. Iron gray hair in a tight bun and parchment skin stretched thin over hawkish features, she spent her days wearing dresses slick with polyester. Yesterday’s fashions all covered in a sensible apron. Black lace up shoes stayed pristine while she sat in a wheel chair and her mind wandered through decades, the Dakotas, Montana, and beyond. She was caught in memories and couldn’t find her way out.
Echoes of children’s laughter mingled with her confusion still ring. We weren’t mocking her, we loved her, even as we witnessed an excruciatingly slow and yet, too quick, departure, we rallied and struggled, and loved…
There was a moment I will never forget, for as long as I live, I hope.
Roxanne, the oldest of us, her beautiful smile framed by rich chestnut hair hanging in ringlets, and expressive brown eyes hidden behind large framed glasses, was young married. She brought her first baby for a visit to the farm.
My niece – how I loved her. I thought she was the sweetest thing ever with perfect porcelain skin, a thick cap of black hair, and soft fingers with tiny, shell-pink nails.
Grandma sat in her corner of the living room, anxiously rocking in the mustard brown vinyl recliner that had been Grandpa’s but was now covered in a gaudy array of handmade crocheted blankets,while the noise, the time of day, the people, the moments, overwhelmed her.
Then we put the baby in her arms and she stopped fretting.
Old and new, two centuries collided, 85 years apart and yet seconds together making all the difference.
Grandma’s hands stilled and frail arms curved to cradle this baby with a practiced ease proving that the ravages of dementia and loss could never erase nine babies and countless hours of just this kind of love.
Her hand gently patted a little bottom in dreamy cadence while slowly she rocked back and forth in an ancient rhythm that comes naturally to any of us when a baby lies quiet and watching in our arms.
For just that moment, for just a sweet, beautiful, gut-wrenching moment I saw her as she had been in the years before I knew her.
I remember seeing my father weep at the loss of his mother, at the loss of his father, at the loss of those he loved. I observed the depth of love and care he carried deeply for them and the tenderly awkward ways he attempted to overcome the struggles of his own life while leading the strong-willed seven of us.
This messy compartmentalizing of thoughts and pain and childish angst all wrapped up in the becoming of more than I was but less than I will be collided with still wanting my Dad to fix it all. Lead me through life like he lead us through international airports and foreign train stations. Confident, excited, determined…
All those words that screamed to be expressed are now wisps of Unimportant emotional tangents. Life has been distilled to this common thought.
It’s our turn to mourn before the memorial and to say the only thing that matters now.
I love you, Dad, it’s ok.
I remember the years, both rich and full. God is keeping us close while we walk through today.
Jesus has us both.
He is enough for us.