I am in the waning days of bachelorette life. To that end, I went to bed last night with a bowl of popcorn and a giant oversized Vernors Diet gingerale with crushed ice. I crunched and slurped to my heart’s content while viewing American Idol in warp speed, and a grab bag of previously taped Janetish shows. Today I will attempt to strip the garage of some of winter’s accumulated debris, neaten a few odds and ends, and plan my last in-bed repast. Steve will be home tomorrow night, and I will lose the remote. I will get over it.
Today is the one year anniversary of my Father’s death, an ending that Steve witnessed and reported to me. He did more than that, really- he prepared me with his gentle observations and his somber tones. He helped my brother and sister make arrangements, and became a link in the Joliat communications network- a pyramid of epic proportions. He lost his label as Winter Guardian for Tom, and shifted to the role of Janet’s Bulwark. This has been my life’s best gift…and a bit of a surprise.
Toward his last days, Dad made a big to-do of signing out of his senior golf league-his Southern life blood- to go to a spring baseball game. The Orioles were playing- a team that Dad did not care a lick about. Steve had experienced practice baseball with Dad in the past, and it wasn’t pretty. The proximity made Dad’s taunts and admonitions arrive intact upon the ears of the players. Their return glare did not impact Dad, but they made all his fellow fans wither. Dad was a Tiger guy, but apart from that, he was a man who did not enjoy the tics and rearrangement of uniforms that slowed baseball. He wanted a countdown pitch timer. “Play Ball” was not an encouragement from him, it was a harangue. Shockingly, Dad’s entreaties never moved the game along one bit. When Dad made the baseball plan, Steve figured something was up.
On top of that, Dad was walking slowly by then, but he would not let Steve cross his name off of the sign-in sheet. Turns out, he had not just cancelled a game, he cancelled his participation altogether. We had no idea. Had we known, we would have realized that Dad’s tank was empty.
The day of the game was rainy. We cancelled our plans, and had leftover corned beef and cabbage. On March 22, I returned home, knowing Dad was in good hands.
This year I returned to Florida with a quaking heart. When I entered the kitchen, I saw the envelope of abandoned baseball tickets on a refrigerator magnet. It didn’t make me sad, because it represented my Dad’s hopeful spirit. Steve saw my eyes strafe the envelope, and the next time I traveled into the kitchen, it was gone, hidden on the bookcase by Steve’s bed. It speaks volumes about Steve’s soft heart that he did not toss it- even for him, it was a tie to a man he loved. When I found it, I opened it up, and nestled inside was his Visitor’s tag from Dad’s last day. Upon this 3 inch square are scribbled the names of the funeral home in Florida that took care of Dad, and the funeral contact in Detroit. Times of services were scrawled for dissemination. He had used it when he called me.
The tag should have upended me, but it did not. I hail from a large loving family. Loving entails loss. Sometimes it is letting go of a toddler, a kindergartner, a college student. Sometimes it is a sadder loss- a marriage or loved one. They all pinch our hearts, and some seem to strangle us. If you are really fortunate, as I am, your loss is absorbed, at least a little, by the comfort and strength of those who remain. When I pull my treasured ticket envelope and tag out of my new hiding place, I ride two emotional waves, sorrow and gratitude. It is essential to me that I glance backward, but I return to face forward with Steve. It is the destiny that Dad helped create the architecture for. He gave me the brave wings to journey with a young and impetuous Steve. He never scolded or judged. He was confident that we had the tools for a long life together, and believe me, he was solitary in that appraisal. And so today, I miss him and I thank him. He is with me, in my resolve and my appreciation for the gifts of everyday life. Even on his weakest day, he would announce that he was “tip top.” I owe him a happy day. Thanks, Dad. And Steve… well, I am willing to eliminate slurping and crunching in bed for you. It is a a good foundation for a long and happy life.