Monday, March 2, 2015

Changing Realities

In a different reality, there would be cake...

A cake large enough to accommodate 82 individual candles – if we were bold enough – or just the large wax "8" and "2" versions more commonly found at a child's birthday celebration.

Perhaps there would be a colorful banner like the one adorning the wall at his mother's 90th birthday fete.

Or maybe he'd think the disposable decorations were unnecessary, a frivolity neither needed nor wanted.

"My family is all I need," he'd say, repeating a phrase that was so much a part of his adult life, of his very being. 

His wife and children would be there, of course, along with as many grandchildren as could be in attendance. And great grandchildren now, too – he'd want them all there.

We'd invite his sisters and some of his close friends – octogenarians themselves – even if they couldn't be present.

And we'd share stories and laughter, allowing the guest of honor to retell some of the same tales we'd heard so many times before that we could tell them ourselves.

This reality would not have illness...

A cancer that grew quietly, insidiously, for months...for years...before the symptoms were too great to mask or ignore.

It would not have a "terminal" diagnosis, an estimate of six months that turned out to be three.

There would not be the wasting away...of weight...of spirit...and, eventually, of hope.

There wouldn't be prayers for miracles that did not materialize. 

Or a final birthday spent in a hospital room with tearful goodbyes eight days later in his home.

In this reality, his family would be gathered around him – in his home, like on that last day – but the mood would be different.

Sorrow would be replaced by joy, devastating loss by overwhelming gratitude.

It would be a day to celebrate a beloved man whose long, long life was well lived.

For the past 19 years, I have lived in a reality much different than the one I envision.

It is a reality framed by loss...one of "I wish"es and imagined conversations that never happened.

Like his presence in my life before, his passing has shaped who I am as a adult – who I try to be as a husband...a father...a man.

My transformation from 27 to 46 would have happened organically, I realize, but it would have been a much easier process without so many questions...questions he could have helped answer in a phone conversation or in a visit over coffee.

In a different reality, I would have had those options. 

Today, on my father's 82nd birthday, I've decided to live in this alternate reality.

I'll visit with him on my lunch break, driving the three miles from my office to where he now lives...the Maine Veterans Cemetery in Augusta. My mom will be there too.

I'll bring a shovel to clear the snow from his walkway. Maybe I'll even stop at the Circle K across the street and pick up coffee for us.

We'll just chat...like the old days...and enjoy our coffee – black, no sugar – as I listen to his retelling of long-told tales.

Mom will sit with us, smiling, just like she used to.

And it will be a very good day.

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