There aren’t a whole lot of days in the last 2 years that I can recall with fondness. I can probably count on 2 hands all of them. More to the point, there aren’t a whole lot of days and experiences with my dad that I can recall with fondness in the last 2 years of his life, specifically after my mom died. It’s not because I didn’t love him or because things were miserable, it’s just that they were hard and difficult to deal with. It’s hard to see someone who was once joyous and vibrant become a shell of who they once were.
It’s funny to me what triggers the memory. After my dad died, I took a bottle of his cologne and put it right on my bathroom sink. On days when I want to remember him, I pick that bottle up and breathe in deeply and images of him fill my mind. I am carried away to a different place and time where for even a brief few moments, things seem to stand still and I am able to bask in the moment and the memory.
Usually, a sniff of his cologne brings me back to what I would classify as one of the best days that I had with him in the past year. As his health declined over the past few years, I realized that his aversion to change was exacerbated with everything else that he was dealing with. He was a man who liked a schedule and a routine and he had let me know that throughout my lifetime with him. In fact, when I failed to allow him to live into that schedule or routine, he was pretty quick to let me know that as well.
One time, I had told him that I would be there to visit him the next morning and forgot to specify what time I would be there. He got up at about 5AM and got ready and then waited about 5 hours until I finally got there. Needless to say, he was not incredibly enthused about my timing that day.
But on that best day, he knew that I was coming and I had been fairly specific about what time I would be there. Having worked in engineering for nearly a decade, my ability to estimate things has not considerably diminished, so I’m pretty good at coming up with times. That’s just what I did that day, I got there right when I had told him that I would get there.
Walking down the hallway towards his room, I was silently bracing myself. So many times I had made this journey and had prepared myself for what I would face when I came face to face with my dad. How was he doing mentally? How was he doing emotionally? Was his depression going to make him clam up during our entire visit? Would we be able to talk about much at all? I had no idea and so my expectations began to be lowered with every subsequent visit. I didn’t want to be disappointed, but more importantly, I did not want to push him into conversations that he was not ready or willing to have. I wanted to simply enjoy spending time with my dad.
So, it was with great surprise what I found when I opened that door. As the door slowly swung open, there was my dad with his finely ironed shirt and pants (thanks, Aunt Audrey) wearing a tie. He was cleanly shaven and his hair was combed. He did not look disheveled, how I had found him so many times before. As our eyes met, a smile covered his face from ear to ear. What was this?
I leaned down and kissed him and told him that it was good to see him. He continued to smile and told me it was good to see me too. I scrolled back through my memory to see if I had forgotten an important appointment that we might have scheduled. Nothing was coming to mind. I was thinking that maybe I had come underdressed for a special occasion, but I had no idea what that occasion might have been.
I looked at my dad and said, “Why are you all dressed up?” Without missing a beat, he simply looked up at me with that beaming smile and said, “My son was coming to visit!” Well, you probably could have knocked me over with a feather at that moment and it would not have taken much more than a Hallmark commercial to turn on the waterworks of tears from my eyes. In that moment, I made a memory, I burned it upon my brain.
It’s that memory that I go back to the majority of the times that I put that bottle of Polo cologne up to my nose. I close my eyes and picture my father with that great, big smile, looking up to me in his neatly pressed and put together outfit. To be honest, I can’t remember a whole heck of a lot of that day after that. I don’t remember whether or not we had a great day or not. I’m pretty sure that we ate lunch at Panera, but don’t quote me on it. All I know is that for one brief moment, I saw a glimpse of the dad that I had seen so many times before and that I had so desperately hoped to find every time that I returned.
When I smell that cologne, I see his smile, I hear his voice, and I can almost feel his breath and embrace. I know he’s not here, but I also know where he is, and that thought brings me great comfort. He’s smiling, he’s strong, and he’s probably singing, and he’s probably having his best day EVER.