The first week in February is bittersweet for me. February 4 was my father’s birthday. February 5 is the anniversary of my mother’s death. I considered sharing a memoir I wrote for an online writing course through Earlham School of Religion but it is too lengthy for this format to share in its entirety. However, I share a portion of it in the following paragraphs.
“The breath of this soft summer night wafts across the porch, gently stirs the leaves in the woods just beyond. My father and I sit rocking, a comfortable silence between us. As though he has been pondering something, my father says in a thoughtful tone, ‘I guess I should wait awhile.’
“Puzzled, I ask, ‘Wait for what, Daddy?’
“To move in with you….”
“My mother has been dead four months. My father has come from Oklahoma to visit my husband and me at our home in Tennessee. I am startled and pleased. I had thought he was content in assisted living, only a mile from the church he helped start 45 years before.
“I respond with something that I hope conveys surprise and pleasure and say we will talk about it some more. I walk inside the house to get my bearings. Despite this happy and unexpected turn of events, I feel uncertain. During the course of my father’s visit, my husband and I have just begun to discover that our longtime business manager has been defrauding us. My life is already in some upheaval.
“I tell my husband, ‘Daddy just told me he wants to come live with us.’ My husband, bless him, exclaims, ‘That’s great!’ And he means it. He loves my father, who reminds him of his own, who died while my husband was serving in Vietnam.
“I wander back outside and tell Daddy, ‘We would love to have you come, Daddy. When were you thinking of coming?’
“He wants reassurance that my husband is willing for this to happen. He says it will take some time. He has to sell his house, which has sat vacant since my parents’ move to assisted living prior to my mother’s death. He asks if it will be a problem to have his funeral in Oklahoma when his time comes. I am astounded to be having this conversation with my father.
“When he leaves to return to Oklahoma we agree that we will work to clean up the mess in our business while he takes care of selling his home. We will decide on an actual date later.
“The devastation in our business only deepens. We learn just in the nick of time that our building is five days from foreclosure. Our business credit card has been run up to $45,000. Every day is a revelation of some new aspect of this overwhelming situation. My husband and I take other work to pay the bills. We take out an $80,000 loan to cover the debt and keep ourselves afloat.
“Meanwhile, my father and I begin to talk on the phone every Sunday night. I am accustomed to the long phone calls I used to have with my mother. Now the calls to my father become longer and longer. Our connection deepens along with the anticipation of his move. We agree to a date: February 4, his 92nd birthday and the day before the first anniversary of my mother’s death. His house sells the week before I fly out.
“I drive a rented Ford Escape from the airport to my hometown where my brothers and I celebrate his birthday with him and then begin the task of packing his things. We make the trek to my mother’s grave and the next day my father and I head for Tennessee, bolstered with a kind of exuberance at the bold journey we are undertaking.
“I, who grew up n the shadow of my mother, am coming to know and love my father deeply. His dry wit, his interest in and appreciation for life enrich our home daily. My husband and I know we are especially blessed by his presence, a healing balm for the grief we have suffered from our losses.”
The remainder of my memoir recounts the months he lived with us. He and I arrived from Oklahoma February 7. He had a stroke the Wednesday after Easter. His last months with us were marred by his confusion and deterioration. Yet he retained his incredibly sweet spirit. He died July 9, 2009 and his funeral was conducted July 16 in his home church in Oklahoma. Rest In Peace, Daddy. May I carry on your legacy.
May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter. Shalom, Kate
Hope’s Cafe Bonus: July 16, 2009, I stand in the church my father faithfully served for decades and conclude my eulogy: “I was amazed at his forbearance as his body began to fail him badly. The smallest tasks became exhausting. After one particularly difficult episode, I said, ‘Daddy, I am so proud of you. You have just handled yourself so gracefully and so admirably through all these difficulties.’ He said, ‘Good, I wanted you to be proud of me. I want you to miss me when I go home,’ which I understood to mean heaven. I said ‘Oh, Daddy, I will miss you when you go home.’ He said, ‘I’ll be back when the wind blows.’ That reminded me of this poem:
‘Do not stand by my grave and weep/ For I’m not there. I do not sleep./ I am a thousand winds that blow./ I am the diamond’s glint on snow/ I am the sunlight on ripened grain/ I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
‘When you awaken in morning’s hush,/I am the swift uplifting rush/Of quiet birds in circled flight/I am soft stars that shine at night./ Do not stand by my grave and cry./I am not there. I did not die.’
My father’s love will be carried on in the many people whose lives he touched. I will never feel the wind blow without knowing that he is there.