We have a somewhat new tradition in our family. It’s called Dad Day. This is the day we gather with Mom and celebrate Dad. It’s been three years since he passed and while the missing is still strong, the grief has lessened. I still watch for signs, messages from Dad. Sometimes I am rewarded with a good one. These signs feel to me like a wink and a nod of magic.
As a professional photographer I sometimes speak to photography groups. There is a group in Chico, where my cousins live and it worked out for me to go up there to speak. I had my choice of speaking in March, April or May and I decided on April. As it happened, the speaking date would be the day before Dad Day. My sister, Nancy had an easy time finding backup for her kids so it turned out that we could go together to Chico, then loop around to Mom’s on the way home.
I emailed our cousins to let them know that after two years we would finally be coming to town and would love to get together for breakfast on Friday. The truth of this cousin thing is that we are all really cousins and second cousins, but to make things easier we just call everyone cousin. Towards the end of dad’s life he made it clear that his cousin Jack was like a brother to him. From then on he called him Brother. They had grown up together, their common bond laughter. Their unspoken connection was like the secret language of twins. They shared a tall frame, stoic exteriors and hearts of gold. Dad called him Brother. We call him Uncle.
The response to our email was that a breakfast date would be great and that Uncle Jack is in the hospital. Jack, who was our rock, just as Dad had been our rock. When Dad was sick, Jack told me to be brave and showed me how. He was proud of us and we loved and looked up to him. Now Jack was in the hospital and we were to visit him on Friday, Dad Day.
Affairs of the heart have that private intensity about them, and then you are thrust back into the bustle of life and asked to participate as you always have. I met with the Chico photographers and talked about how Giving Back is Good for Business. At the end of my presentation I talked about giving back to oneself – The importance of self and family being paramount to living a full life. This is the lesson my dad taught me through his passing.
Instead of sneaking in the lessons that are now my passion, I actually built my talk around them: “How do you balance taking care of the rest of the world and who takes care of us? If we don’t, who will?” By the end of my talk I had bared my soul and made new friends in photography. I found we are more alike than different, that we all care about our families and we really want to make a difference.
On Friday, Nancy and I awoke to a bright, warm day, a day of catching up on all of the news of Jack and my cousins. And the realization that strength and giving can mask the needing – that sometimes the needing is harder to do than the giving. Nancy and I went to see our Jack, not knowing what was or was to be. All we knew is we were here, ambassadors for Dad.
Dad would have loved that we were here for Jack on Dad Day. Loving Jack and hearing his story of masculinity and finally the giving up. Giving him our love and touch. Hoping he knew how much he meant to us, realizing that we too, were takers of his strength. Our conversation was light and funny with ‘real’ in between the lines. I looked into his big owl eyes hoping for the best, but uncertain of life’s fairness.
Naively, I thought it was a fluke that Dad had died so young, that everyone else would get a good twenty more years or so. I was starting to realize that this was a dream. Really none of us has that guarantee.
We said our goodbyes with kisses and love. As I turned back at the door I saw him glance down with a sigh of sadness. The places in between reveal so much more than the surface.
Jack died about a week later, on Saturday. It was a swift decline. He was no match for the multiple lines tripping him up and pulling him down. He was ready to leave this life. It had become too hard. My regrets could not have saved him. No one could. He could only have saved himself, as is true for every person.
What I learned from Dad about living now, taking care of myself and valuing those I love has only been reinforced by Jack. I feel like my message could not have been made more clear. If it’s to be, it’s up to me. How do we remember to save ourselves every day? Not just as a prescription or band-aid, but as a strengthening for living.
I believe in magic and I know in my heart that Dad was there for Jack in his final moments, just as they were there for each other during their lives. We will say our final goodbyes tomorrow.