Two years ago today, we gathered in Michigan to celebrate my dad’s life. In the days before that, the funeral director gave me a limit of 300 words to capture his life for his obituary. I couldn’t imagine summing up my dad’s whole vivid, detailed life in so few words. This post today is also exactly 300 words. Different words, for a different purpose. Not capturing the whole thing, but perhaps capturing a glimpse of the essence of Dad.
Whenever I tried to pay for my dad’s lunch, or coffee, or gas, or anything, he refused to let me. One time, at an Alabama farm market, I tried to buy a quart of strawberries and he about ran me over like a slightly bowlegged brown-eyed bulldozer. I’m 42 years old, I told the girl at the counter, and my dad won’t let me pay for my own strawberries. We all laughed. It was one of those times that slides into the big pile of memories you think will go on and on.
Except eventually you come to the end of those times. You can resurrect the old memories, but you can’t make new ones. Maybe that’s grief, the sharp knife of realizing there will be no new memories.
Lately I’d been thinking that sometimes the enormity of a loss nearly eclipses a life. And right out of the blue, at a restaurant, a man I’d never seen before showed up, jaunty little driving cap, brown eyes shining kindly, speaking softly, asking us to help his wheelchair-bound wife, with Dad’s same apologetic half-grin and quiet mannerism. Afterward he said he owed us cheeseburgers. I remembered all the times when my dad muscled me out of the way so he could pay for whatever I was buying, and how I never really got the chance to buy him lunch, dinner, or even coffee. Until then.
I finally repaid my dad that day, conspiring with servers to buy the couple lunch. When we left, the man thanked us with warm hugs, and in his embrace I could feel my dad. I learned a truth in that moment. Sometimes, by resurrecting what we miss most about those we have loved and lost, they show up unexpectedly on the wings of a new memory.