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It is just over 12 hours since my father has passed from this earth. It’s been a time full of phone calls and discussions held with family, friends and Facebook. The outpouring is overwhelming. When this time passes and his death is no longer immediate, I ask myself, what is it about him I will miss the most?
I’ll feel his loss a million ways, of course. I’ll miss that strong jaw, his practical manner and calm demeanor and, especially, the way we grew closer as his body grew weaker. I will see shadows of him everywhere, and every corner of my life will feel the void. But what I’ll miss most is the privilege of witnessing the love he showered upon my mother, a love incomparable. It was unmistakable, intangible, a force of nature: the way he looked at her, the way he loved her. But it was visible, as well, and evident to all who met them. It shone in the way they held hands, in a soft goodbye kiss or when they’d reach for one another in times of stress. I am so much the better for witnessing this love. I am a product of it. I will hold it in my heart forever and bask in its afterglow like a sunset well remembered.
That we would grow up to be unique individuals: that is what my parents always wished for their nine children. And now, in the last hours–or possibly days, should the bull moose refuse to relinquish his already tentative hold on life–we react as unique individuals to my father’s expected passing. Some question, others accept. One communicates, another withdraws. Some plan ahead, others reminisce. How different we all are. What we have in common is that he made us who we are.
Some many years, so many seasons past. It was springtime when my parents met in Washington DC: cherry blossoms bloomed, despite the war, and made for them a time of hope and promise, a time for new beginnings. They married in August and for 71 years, theirs has been a marriage of book sense merged with common sense. They made a life through firmly grounded principles anchored by keen and open minds, rooted in family and community but with a love for new vistas and adventures.
Like a lazy summer afternoon, like a July day with no end, their time together has been long and pleasant. Though they have labored, as it was always with a purpose and, always, in step with one another. And although no summer is free of storms, when thunder broke around them and the power and glory of nature were undeniable, they found shelter with one another. In mid-summer, when the sun hung long in the the sky and passed so slowly toward the horizon, one could barely think of nightfall. But the days grow shorter, if even imperceptibly. Only when the daylight has scattered and dimmed and the first firefly glimmers, only then do we realize night is upon us.
We’re in the homestretch of moving my mother to a new assisted living apartment. It has taken six weeks, sheaves of paperwork, many friends and angels, on-site contributions from five siblings and the distant emotional support of four other brothers and sisters. For their part, my parents have presented an iron will throughout it all, a strength that continues to bind them despite their physical separation.
Our goal is in site. Tomorrow, my mother will once again reside within the same walls of my father’s rehab and long-term care facility, as closely reunited as possible, if not in the same bed. Perhaps time will draw them closer; perhaps not. Their journey will not end with this move. It is a new beginning, yet another adventure. Throughout their years together, my parents have traveled extensively by car, by van, in a trailer, by boat. I think now of the bright yellow hazard signs posted on mountain highways we once wandered: “Beware of falling rocks.” Who knows what lies ahead.