A Reflection

mirrorEver have a comment that someone made leave you speechless or stop you in your tracks? Not in a bad way, but in a good way.

I was talking with a friend last night on the phone. She and her husband have become surrogate parents to me and surrogate grandparents to my children especially in the wake of my parents’ death. They’ve given above and beyond the call of duty and done everything that family would do for us. Other than the blood connection, there is nothing else that distinguishes them from family.

As we talked on the phone, she was commenting upon a sermon that I had given at church in the morning. She said, “I didn’t know your dad and I never heard him preach, but I can’t help but think about how proud of you he would have been.”

The lump rose in my throat and I was rendered speechless in that moment. A guy who speaks and writes for a living had no words to offer up.

Those words rang in my head for the rest of the evening. I reflected on just what that meant.

My dad and I were different people. While there are certain idiosyncrasies that have reared their heads to remind me of our connection, there are many differences between the two of us.

But there’s something to be said about a reflection. I couldn’t help but wonder the reflection that I have been of my earthly father. Those who knew him may see it more than others. Those who didn’t know him may get a glimpse of him when they see me.

It’s moments like these that I wish he was still here. The old adage that if I knew then what I know now holds true. How I wish that we could have shared more moments of exchanging thoughts, ideas, philosophies, and other things. Our relationship was good, don’t get me wrong, but one of the consequences of loss is that we always will look back at what might have been, and this is no exception.

My father knew no strangers. While I wouldn’t consider my father opportunistic, he never missed opportunities to tell someone about the things that he loved and the people he cared for. He never stood down from his convictions and was never afraid to engage in healthy debates and conversations with someone with whom he disagreed. Never in a hateful or angry way, always in a loving and gentle manner, regardless of what came back at him.

While some of those characteristics are present in me, like I said, I’m very different than my father. But I think my friend was right, I think Dad would be proud if he watched and observed. I still have notes where he expressed that very thing to me, his pride at who I had and was becoming, as a father, as a son, as a husband, as a pastor, as a person. Those notes remain cherished pieces of a relationship that lives on within me.

I can assure you that if my father were still around, we would still engage in some healthy debates. We wouldn’t see eye to eye and our philosophies would most likely butt up against each other, but I think he would be proud to know the values he had instilled in me.

Yes, if he had been there yesterday, I think he would have risen up with pride for who I was becoming. I’m a far cry from perfect, but I’m a reflection of who he was for all to see. More importantly, I’m a reflection of my heavenly Father as well. Even further from a perfect image, but every day becoming more and more who I was created to be.

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Easier

Dylan and Irene 2School started for my older children a few days ago. Weeks ago, my wife and I sat down with our Fall calendars and began to offer collective sighs as we began to feel the exhaustion set in before it even started.

Fall is always a busy time for me. Four of the five of my immediate family members have birthdays within a three and a half week period. If you add cousins and grandparents into the mix, add another four weeks, there are seven additional birthdays.

Once upon a time, there were eight additional birthdays…

My mom would have been 77 years old today. A friend messaged me the other day to check in on me as she knew that the day was approaching. I had gone silent on social media and she was concerned. Having experienced her own share of losses, the impending dread around certain dates was familiar to her.

I started thinking about this day at least a month ago. My thoughts weren’t necessarily thoughts of dread, they were just reminders, preparing myself, bracing myself, maybe, for what could potentially hit me as the date approached.

This is the fifth time that I’ve had to pass this birthday without celebration and without my mom. Dare I say that it’s gotten a little easier with every successive year?

Don’t get me wrong, not a day goes by that my mom is not on my mind. There’s still a hole there that cannot be filled. But the ache is more dull than it once was, it doesn’t feel as fresh but rather resembles the throb of an old scar that sends shivers when touched, poked, or prodded.

There are still sharp pains and aches, they mostly have to do with my kids. Baseball games. Basketball games. School programs. Moments when I wish that she was beside me, not necessarily for what she could offer me, but more for what she could offer my children. Whether they know it and feel it or not, there’s a gap, a hole, in them as well.

Other than this post, today may go by with little to no acknowledgement of this event. Maybe I should start some kind of tradition with my kids, maybe I should take some time to remember, but I remember more often than not, doing it today isn’t necessary.

I’m a better man because of what my mom gave me, so it’s hard for me to fully comprehend the gravity of this day. If this day hadn’t happened, neither would I.

Yes, it’s gotten a little easier since 2011, but I miss her still.

Happy birthday, Mom! I love you and I’ll see you again!

They Say It’s Your Birthday

Mom and Dad 2001 - Don Miller PartyNo matter how hard I try, memorable dates still keep repeating themselves year after year. Anniversaries, birthdays, and other events, whether they are noted on my Google calendar or not are still embedded in my brain.

Today would have been my father’s 73rd birthday.

Birthdays were always a fun time in my family. At some point, after my brother and I grew out of parties and presents, we still converged upon my parents’ house to have dinner and cake.

The cake was always a Carvel ice cream cake. It was kind of funny to watch the cakes shrink in size over the years. As the price went up, the size shrunk.

Along the way, we developed a tradition where all of us (¾ of whom were decent singers) would sing probably the most atrocious version of “Happy Birthday” that anyone has ever heard. Although we could sing, we would somehow find a way to disguise our voices to sound like the most tone-deaf singers you could ever find.

I remember the first time that I brought my wife (then girlfriend) to a birthday. I think that I probably spent some time during the car ride explaining what would happen so as not to shock her. Thankfully, my explanation was good enough that she didn’t run away. It probably helped that she comes from a family with a wicked sense of humor as well.

The tradition hasn’t been well carried on with my own children, so I miss it terribly every time that a birthday comes around, especially the birthdays of my parents.

Today, I remember my father. He wasn’t perfect. He wasn’t athletic. He wasn’t even always funny. But I loved him dearly!

I can’t even begin to express how grateful that I am that I was blessed with him as my father. He did the best that he could with the shoddy example of a father that he had. He gave himself to his church and to his family. He sometimes worked too much. He sometimes got uptight. He wasn’t always the most patient of people, but he loved in a way that he could only have learned to love from his heavenly Father.

I miss you and love you, Dad. I am proud to be your son and to be a living legacy to the love that you showed to me. I can’t wait to see you again! Happy birthday!

Family Road Trip

griwsold familySome of my fondest memories from my childhood were of road trips that I took with my family. I grew up in Connecticut and both of my parents were from Brooklyn. Neither of them traveled extensively when they were young. Most of my dad’s traveling was to his grandparents’ farm just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia.

My dad went to school in Columbia, South Carolina and established a deep relationship with an older couple in Lancaster, South Carolina while he was in school. The relationship that was formed was so strong that my brother and I eventually called this couple our grandparents.

Our road trips down south would consist of trips to South Carolina to visit these grandparents, trips to Georgia to visit my mom’s aunt and uncle, and trips to Florida to visit my mom’s parents. We never had the money to fly, so it was always a multi-day “adventure” to get there in the car.

My father had a knack for finding hotels. In fact, it became a family joke whenever we walked into a hotel that seemed a little suspect to us that we would say, “But it’s AAA approved.” That was Dad’s line all the time when my mom would get on his case about whatever sort of hotel he had found. There are some stories that I can recall of us staying in places where I feared I might be carried away by some kind of bug in the middle of the night.

It was just my brother and me in the back seat, but we still managed to find ways to argue.

“He’s touching me.”

“He crossed onto my side.”

“He farted.”

“He’s making noises on purpose.”

Any parent knows of what I speak. Kids have a way of getting under one another’s skin and pushing each other’s buttons. My brother and I knew just the right things to do and to say to get the other one frustrated.

Occasionally, my dad would have to utter his famous line, “Don’t make me pull this car over.” Even less frequently would he actually have to do it, but it happened. I wonder what the passengers and drivers in the other cars on the road were thinking when they saw my dad spanking his sons on the side of the road in the middle of the summer.

Somehow, we all survived those trips. Years later, when my brother and I had become adults, many of the stories that we shared when we would come together as a family revolved around those trips. They were filled with laughter, especially the further removed they were from us.

Recently, I took a trip with my family to Orlando. Flying was not really an option, so we made it into a road trip.

Now, I should probably write a separate post of the “Top 5 Things To Remember Before Going On a Road Trip With Your Children.” Some kind of anxiety medication might have been a prerequisite for this trip. But nobody told me that.

I’m not sure how children know, it’s like a sixth sense within them, but they know what the most frustrating phrases, songs, and sounds are, the ones that will be like fingernails on a chalkboard to their parents. Somehow they manage to find those and then say them them, sing them, and make them for 12 straight hours.

As my wife and I sat in the front seat of the car we were driving, I looked at her and said, “I think my parents were saints.” Somewhere, my mom and dad were laughing hysterically. It was just my brother and me, so my parents played man-on-man defense in their parenting. Maybe that was the issue, my wife and I had moved to zone defense three years ago when my daughter was born.

I wondered what parents did before the advent of the car DVD player. I wondered who decided that these car seats were a good idea considering that generations of children had somehow miraculously escaped injury being wide open and free in the back seat. I wondered when the last time that I had prayed for patience had been because it seemed that my prayer was being answered in giving me opportunity to exercise it. I wondered exactly when I had become Clark Griswold.

Now, don’t get me wrong, while there were moments that felt as if I were on the threshold of hell (in the spirit of Clark Griswold), but most of the time, it was pure joy. We laughed, we sang, we told stories, we played games. We weren’t signing up to be on any Hallmark commercials, but we enjoyed ourselves. My extraverted daughter would commandeer the attention of everyone and have us all sing songs that she made up, much to the chagrin of her brothers.

After spending more than 24 hours in the car together over the course of the week, we all somehow managed to survive. That’s how I know that God exists. Not only did we survive the trip, but I think we all had a good time. There were tears and shouts, there was frustration and anger, but in the end, I think it all turned out okay.

I would have loved to have seen the faces of my parents as we recounted our trip to them. I would have loved to see my children’s eyes light up as they described all of the things that they did and all that they saw. I would have loved to have seen my kids laugh when my parents told them of some of our road trips and all the misadventures that we had along the way.

We’re not being nominated for any “Family of the Month” awards, but you know what? I think we did just fine.

Now, to gear up for the next road trip!

Two Years…Again

Today marks the two year anniversary of my dad’s death. Time keeps passing by, there’s just no stopping it. I can’t really say whether or not it actually feels like two years have passed.

It was such a wearisome process that brought us to April 17th, 2013. Many times I thought the day would have arrived much sooner. Many times I wished that the day would have arrived sooner, if I’m brutally honest. It’s not that I wanted my dad to die, it’s just that there are times when what we might call “living” doesn’t really equate to a really good definition of that. While he wasn’t taken by something like Alzheimer’s or ALS or some other devastating disease, depression and heartache can take their own toll on the human soul. And that’s just what they did.

In many of the same ways that I have begun to see the growth that has come out of the death of my mom, I’ve started to see the same thing with my dad’s death. Relationships within the family that had been strained or non-existent have been reborn and restored. What might have seemed impossible or improbable has actually become real and existent. Who am I to doubt what God can do with broken and dead things….or people, for that matter?!

There are certain things that I’ve done that might seem weird to people. I still keep my parents’ phone numbers in my phone. It’s not like they still belong to them or that I can actually pick up the phone and call them. They won’t answer if I did and the people who belong to those numbers might think me crazy if I did, nothing new for me though. I’ve left voicemail messages on my phone from them as well. It brings me comfort to hear those voices. There’s something about hearing my dad say, “I love you very much” in a message. It’s as if all of the weakness that I was seeing was stripped away, even if for a moment, and I was left with a glimpse of what used to be.

I still want to pick up the phone and call them both. I still want to share things with my dad, to get his insights, to hear his voice, but I can’t. Nothing can replace him, just as nothing can replace my mom. They’re gone, not forgotten, and there still remains hope.

While some people have seen my sharing of thoughts as possibly exhibiting bitterness or anger, I can honestly say that those emotions haven’t really been strong within me. Sure, there is remorse in lost moments and maybe some regret as well. The regrets are more selfish though, I wish that I knew more about this or that, they don’t have anything to do with what I did or how I treated my parents. I wouldn’t take back anything. There’s nothing that I wish I had said or done. I feel like they left with things in as good of a place as any for us. Still doesn’t change the fact that I still wish for them to be here, to share more moments with me and my family.

Two years have come and gone and my heart still continues to ache. On these days, it’s almost as if the pain is palpable, that I can touch it and feel it more than other days. I imagine that no matter what anniversary it is that I’m remembering, those days will always give way to a fresh feeling to that grief and loss, as if it had just happened. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, unless I let myself get swallowed up by the moment. Feeling pain can sometimes help us remember that we’re human and that we’re alive.

I love you, Dad. I miss you every day. I can’t wait to see you once again.

The Shrinking Tomb

Right after my mom died, we all assumed that my dad was going to continue to live on his own. I was still finishing up seminary at the time and flew out to Minnesota just a few days after my mom’s funeral. So, imagine my surprise when midway through my week in St. Paul, I received a phone call from my dad telling me that he was in the hospital. He assured me that everything was okay and that he would be fine, but I should have known better.

Dad had lost a lot in a short time period and it would be difficult for just about anyone to recover from that kind of loss. A career. A home. A wife and partner. The familiar. The convenient. The comfortable.

Dad continued on his own, living in the townhouse that was supposed to have served my parents throughout their retirement for the next four and a half months. Then, well, you know what they say about something hitting the fan?! That Christmas may very well have been the worst Christmas in my forty plus years.

Dad was in the hospital for a few weeks, he recovered enough to leave but not enough to be on his own. We were uncertain what would come next for him. I tried to be as sensitive as possible in the midst of my father’s frailty. He had been pushed into so many things in such a short period of time that I didn’t want to find myself guilty of being one more person pushing him into something that made him uncomfortable or sad. So, we held on to his townhouse, hoping that one day he would be strong enough and well enough to get back there again and live on his own.

That day never came.

When I would go down to visit my dad, we would generally go out to lunch, maybe stop by the cemetery to see my mom’s grave, and then stop by the townhouse. Sitting there in the townhouse at the dining room table, opening up the mail that had come, I think it still gave him a sense of control, a sense of solidarity, and a sense of independence. I’m not exactly sure how it felt for him all of those times, but eventually, it was just me going to the townhouse and to the cemetery.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that I was visiting two tombs. Although the townhouse still contained most of my parents’ belongings, it was empty, cold, and lifeless. Sure, there were memories there, but it was as if time had stopped and every time that I set foot in there, it was as if I was walking into an alternate universe where time was suspended for however long I chose to stay. Just as Edmund, Lucy, Peter, and Susan had set foot into the wardrobe transporting them to Narnia, so the townhouse had a similar effect on me. The difference was that while the Pevensie children were in the wardrobe time was suspended, the townhouse acted as sort of a time vacuum to me. The time that I spent there seemed to pass quickly without me fully realizing it.

Over time, I realized that visiting the townhouse wasn’t too much different than visiting the cemetery. They were both tombs, of a sort. One was warmer, an larger, and better decorated, but they both contained something that was no longer there, except in my mind. In that townhouse I could find myself reliving memories, getting lost in daydreams, and simply remembering what used to be.

We embraced the difficult task of getting rid of everything that we did not want to hold on to, helped (thankfully) by a friend who ran estate sales. In the months before the townhouse finally sold, it felt more and more like a tomb as there was nothing there anymore, no furniture, no pictures, no clothes, no sign of what used to be, just emptiness. We transported the remaining belongings to a storage unit not far from my house after the townhouse sold.

One afternoon, not long after the townhouse sold, I found myself driving to the storage unit. As I opened the door, the remaining belongings still held that smell, you know, the smell of my parents. Not sure I can explain that in a way that would do it justice with words, but it was the same smell that hit me every time that I walked into the townhouse.

I realized in that moment that the tomb had gotten smaller. It had gone from townhouse size to storage unit size. In some ways, it was a fitting metaphor for my grief. Not to say that my sense of loss over my parents felt any smaller, but it seemed that I was better able to handle it and on some level it had somehow shrunk from the size of a townhouse to the size of a storage unit.

In the absence of the townhouse, I’ve not got many reasons to frequent Williamsburg. There are no trips to the townhouse, nor are there any trips to the cemetery. My trips to the storage unit are limited, but I know that one day, in an effort to eliminate expenses, we will need to eliminate that storage unit as well.

The tomb is shrinking.

Entering into this Lenten season, it seemed fitting for me to come to this realization. After all, the culmination of the Lenten season has to do with the discovery of an empty tomb and, beyond that, all of the implications that come with it.

When faced with the emptiness and loss of what was, it’s easy to linger on it, allowing it to diffuse into our souls and somehow convince us that it’s the end. Facing the emptiness of the townhouse and the condensed memories that take up the storage unit, it’s a reminder to me that there is hope beyond tombs, I can picture in my mind that storage unit being empty one day, and I think it will be symbolic to me, in a way, of the hope that remains in the midst of emptiness.

The tomb was empty, the clothes remained, but the body was gone. Jesus was gone. In much the same way, Mom and Dad are gone, the tomb is empty. Sure, there are still earthly shells of what used to be, but the lifelessness and emptiness that seems so palpable point me to a picture of hope, reminding me that death is not the end.

Some people give up things for Lent, they take part in a fasting of sorts to focus them on the meaning of the season. I’ve never been one to do things simply because everybody else does and I don’t think that I will start now. In fact, maybe my visits to the “tomb” might become more frequent in the midst of this Lenten season. Visiting an occupied grave may serve as a fitting reminder to me that there was an empty tomb that was visited many years ago and the implications of its emptiness are as relevant today as they were back then. In addition, the ramifications of that emptiness ring loud and true today and on into eternity, so if that’s what tombs remind me of, bring it on. Nothing like finding a little hope in the midst of emptiness.

Performance Mode

mic-facing-audienceAs a pastor, worship leader, and musician, there are times when it becomes necessary to go into what I call “performance mode.” For me, it happens when there is the potential of being overtaken with emotion while speaking, playing, or singing.

I noticed the need for this “performance mode” when I used to sing in church as a boy. If I looked at my mom, who was bursting with pride and welling up with tears, I found myself struck with the emotion of the moment, overcome even. I would choke up and then be unable to continue to song, instead vamping for a minute until I could regain composure.

Since then, there have been situations in which I have found myself which have required performance mode even more: speaking at the funeral of a six month old baby of a friend, singing at the funeral of a peer and friend, a powerful commissioning service or baptism service, singing at a funeral service while my father was in hospice care a week before he died, and countless other instances. In all of them, I have found myself needing to look past the eyes of those in the congregation or audience, focusing my mind on the words or notes, rising above the feelings and emotion of the moment to maintain composure and finish.

Today is a day for me to go into “performance mode” as I attend the closing on my parents’ townhouse. As tempted as I am to fall into the feelings and emotions of the moments that will occur, I need to rise above them. It will be a difficult day as I sit in a conference room and sign papers to complete the sale of my parents’ townhouse which was not supposed to happen for a long time.

It was a little more than four years ago that I sat in a similar conference room with them signing the papers that would make this townhouse theirs, to make them homeowners for the first time in their lives. Four years ago, I stood across the room from my parents and met eyes with my mom as she gave me one of the biggest smiles that I’d ever seen on her. That knowing look that happens between two people who can speak without saying a word, whose communication extends beyond just verbal. She winked at me as our eyes met and she continued to sign the endless papers to become a first-time homeowner.

Today is the end of that dream…..officially. There is no bitterness there, no anger at God, just disappointment and sadness. I don’t blame God, I’m not asking “Why?” in the midst of it, but I can’t deny the emptiness that I feel inside, I can’t deny that I wish that this day wasn’t happening as soon as it is. I wish that I had had more time….but I didn’t.

Today I will make that drive one last time and there will be no need to go back to that townhouse again. I will quickly move into “performance mode” and sign papers that will ensure that the deal is done.

So, if you happen to see me today, you’ll probably just get a smile and a nod. I’ll be short for conversation and long for pensivity. I’ll be trying to think of every other thing to think about rather than the one that’s immediately present before me. If you happen to see me today, I hope that words fail you, and if they do, I’ll just settle for a hug!

End of Chapter

close chapterOne week from today, life will be moving on. We will finally be closing on the townhouse that my parents occupied for about a year of their lives. In fact, Mom only lived there for the last eight months of her life and while we all hoped that Dad would make it back there, it never panned out that way.

This has been an incredibly long journey. We are moving towards the three and a half year mark since we lost Mom, and even though it’s been that long, it still feels like yesterday. I can hear her voice in my mind, I see her face and her smile in my mind, I can even smell her as I rummage amidst the remainder of her belongings.

They (whoever “they” are) say that grief is not a linear path and I will wholeheartedly agree with the wisdom in that statement. While there are various stages of grief, my own experience tells me that we rarely travel through them consecutively and in order and that once a stage is done, it is behind you. Stages seem to rise up again and again, even when you thought you were through them.

When next Tuesday is over, I think that a moratorium on Williamsburg trips will be in order. It’s not that I don’t love my family who lives there or that I don’t like the things to do there, it’s just that healing needs to happen and removing myself from the circumstances and surroundings seems like the best way to let that healing take place.

Sometimes, you just have to move on. Sometimes, you just have to stop thinking about what could have been and move into what is and what will be. Sometimes, you just have to hold your head up high and lean into the pain.

My parents bought their townhouse in July of 2010. In November of 2010, they moved in. In November of 2014, they will move out for the last time.

Right now, it is an empty shell of what it was. Even while they were there, there was not much life there. Even while they were there, it was hard to find hope. The emptiness seems more than an analogy but rather an outward expression of an inward reality.

Next Tuesday, I will walk a little slower, sigh a little deeper, tear up a little faster, but I know that these are only temporary expressions of grief and loss. In the midst of the grief, the tears, and the sorrow still remains faith, love, and hope. Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. My faith is strong in that this is not the end, I will see my parents again.

Just two days after this closing, I will spend time with my brother for Thanksgiving, appropriate considering one of the best ways to move from frustration and pain is to think about the things for which we are grateful.

For this melancholic, the Fall always holds times of reflection and poignancy, why should this year be any different? I will one day look back on it and see the scars but know that I somehow lived through it. The experiences in our lives are all part of the formative process of making us who we need to be.

May this be just one part of the ever continuing process of transformation in me.

 

Striking Gold – Director’s Cut

I’ve asked 2 good friends and loyal readers to share their favorite blog posts.  Over the next few months, I will be sharing their thoughts and insights that they have shared with me regarding some of these posts.  I hope that what they share will add some new insights to some of my previous posts.

[Wanda writes: As I am getting older and my mortality is hitting me in the face, I realize how important it is to make memories and “moments in time” for loved ones to cherish. There is not enough wealth in the world to compare to sharing a sunset with someone you love – whether your children, parents or good friends. When we make memories, we never really leave our loved ones. Hopefully, the most important part of who we are remains intact, to be shared for generations.]

I knew it for years before she died, but since her death and since going through boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff, it has been officially confirmed: my mom saved everything. No joke. When I say “everything,” I mean it. I have report cards from elementary school, newspaper clippings for when I was on the honor roll in high school, drawings that I did in art class while in kindergarten, and a sundry of other mementos from my early life and childhood.

What’s been really funny to me is to see how some of these mementos have acted like mental dominos, triggering memories of other mementos which trigger memories of others and others and others beyond that. I can get lost in the memories that are conjured up by the smallest of trinkets or even the faintest of smells.

I found a tape of me singing that I knew existed but wasn’t quite sure where. My mom had played it for me over and over again as I was growing up. When I found it after looking high and low, I played it for my kids, who were getting quite a kick out of hearing their dad sing songs like “The Monkees” theme song, “Jesus Loves Me,” “The Odd Couple” theme song, and a few others.

It’s simply amazing to me how these things have the power of transporting me to a different time and place. That seems to be the power of our senses, all five of them, they can take us away to a place and time far away. With a simple sound or smell or word even, we can find ourselves dreaming about something that happened long ago.

I mentioned to someone the other day that I kept a bottle of my father’s cologne and my mother’s perfume right next to my sink in the bathroom. On occasion, when I’m feeling particularly nostalgic, I will reach down and pick up one of the bottles, put it up to my nose, close my eyes, and take a deep breath in. When smelling my father’s cologne, the day that it usually takes me to was a day when my father was in the rehab facility where he eventually died. I had realized how much of a creature of habit he was when he would get upset with me for not giving him specifics about when I would be arriving to pick him up. Smelling my mother’s perfume brings me back to Sunday mornings in church, sitting next to her, sometimes holding her hand, always feeling safe and secure with her by my side. It reminds me of how the house smelled when she was getting ready on all of those Sunday mornings.

One day, I told my dad exactly when I would be there to visit him and when I got there, I walked into his room to find him dressed nicely with a shirt and tie on. I searched my memory to try to figure out whether I was forgetting something. Did we have an appointment with an attorney or someone else that had slipped my mind? I didn’t think so. So, I said to him, “Why are you all dressed up, Dad?” He just looked up at me with a big smile and said, “My son was coming to visit me.” Cue the lump in my throat. What a special day it was and that’s the day that my brain conjures up every time that I take a deep breath of his cologne.

It’s ironic that things like homemade tapes and bottles of cologne might be considered “gold.” Many people might be looking around for the things that have monetary value, but those things pale in comparison to what I’ve found. These are the things from which memories are made. There is no price that could be attached to them, their value is priceless.

It certainly makes me think through what it is that I am leaving for my children. I hope that memories like these are the things that they value above everything else. When we spend time with those we love, we embed that time into our memories, creating moments that we can call up from our memory banks when we want them or need them. Those are the gifts to me and I am so grateful to have had them.

3 Years

irene and jon 1974It’s hard to believe, but this week marks the three year anniversary of my mom’s death. Without having to look at the calendar, I probably could have told you that it was coming just by the growing tension rising up within me. My anxiety level rose almost like clockwork, signaling to me that this day was on the horizon.

I think that I can safely say that a day hasn’t passed when I haven’t thought of her. For the first year, I struggled not to pick up the phone in an effort to call her. Fortunately, if I had done that, my dad would still have been there, but that only lasted for a short time, maybe five months, before his own decline.

There are reminders of her all around. A “Praying Hands” plaque over my vanity. A framed picture of a North Carolina lighthouse on our wall. Framed photographs throughout the house. Then there’s the car that she drove, bought with her own money, still holding that lingering scent of her. Every once in a while, I’ll sit in the driver’s seat and drift off, remembering a different time and place when things looked a little more promising than they ended up.

I just remarked to someone recently, I think it was my brother, that the day that I see her again she will probably say that it only felt like hours or days since she last saw me. I hardly think that the sentiment will be echoed by me, but I look forward to the day still.

Life has changed since that day and it will continue to change. Navigating that change is the challenge.

I am grateful for the time that I had with her. I am grateful for the relationship that I had with her, relationship that I saw as fairly unique. It’s not every mother and son who gets along well, there was always a special bond between us, right until the end.

I remember the last time that we really talked. I knew that the end was near and so did she. We sat on the couch in her home and I told her that I was lucky because not every son could say that they had a special relationship with their mother. Our noses met and we rubbed them together, something that I do with my daughter often. That moment hangs in time, captured in my memory to forever remind me of what I had.

My father chose to put the phrase, “She is not here, she is with Jesus” on her grave. My brother and I wouldn’t argue, we weren’t the ones burying our wife, our partner, our love. He did the best that he could, but he was a shell of who he once had been by the time that they moved and they received the news that no one ever wants to get. I don’t fault him for his struggle, I can’t say that I would have done any better and I hope that I never have to make that comparison

She is gone and yet their affairs still remain open as I try desperately to close them. All I want is some amount of closure and selling their home will be a large step in that process. Every day I pray that it will happen and I know that the day will come, but when? It’s not that I don’t want to remember them, but I want to remember them away from that place, the place which marks so much pain and unrealized dreams. That place where she breathed her last breath, I could do without having to grace those walls with my presence, it took far too much of my energy, both physical and emotional.

Three years isn’t a long time, but in some ways it feels like a lifetime.

I love you, Mom.