It’s not your birthday or Easter when you went home to those who missed you for so long, but not a day goes by that I don’t remember something about you. I think of all the things that have happened since you left, and it’s almost staggering the way time waits for none of us.
I saw this picture of empty shoes where the photographer created a compelling shot of his shadow, and I wept thinking how some shoes can never be filled. No one will ever be able to take the place of Dad, despite his flaws he was still unique. There are roles I will never be able to fill. I know you told me to treat Arlie as if she was my own, but try as I may I will never be her father. There will always be that line I can never erase and she will never cross. That doesn’t mean I’ll give up, but it’s a truth I can’t change any more than I can fill your shoes with someone else.
I miss our phone calls, and last week I had to visit Walmart in Petersburg, just to buy a memory card for Trish’s camera, not thinking what would happen when I got out of the car. I saw an elderly lady on one of the electric shopping scooters and I recalled our grocery runs. Once inside the store, I could almost see you buzzing up the aisles, and each time I looked away I’d have to hustle to catch up with you. I made it about halfway back to electronics before I had to stop. My glasses were wet with tears, standing next to the counter with scented candles where you always stopped without fail.
It’s amazing how the simplest of things can be a catalyst for something that was nothing more than an errand at the time, but it happens, and always when I least expect it to be waiting around the corner.
There was a park bench on the river bank near the pumphouse at work, and it was recently taken away. I have often wondered if your spirit had some hand in making that happen if only for my benefit. That bench was the location of a young child trapped in mans body, crying out in pain for his mother. The last time I spoke with you on the phone I was at work (wasn’t I always?) and you complained of feeling cold and shaking but we were sure after the weekend you’d go back to the hospital and get things straight.
Sometimes the darkness at the river in the deep of night can be spooky, but that night the moon was high and I could almost hear you voice telling me you wanted to see your daddy again. I knelt at that park bench and prayed with a bleeding heart that I loved you too much to ask you to stay. I wept to God in Heaven that I didn’t want you to suffer, and if it was time for Him to bring you home, then please do so with all speed.
The very next day…I watched you leave.
I returned to that park bench often, and one morning on the 12-8 shift, I sat watching the sun break over the trees, and I swear I could hear you singing next to me, “Here comes the sun, little darling. Here comes the sun, and I say, it’s alright…” That music played in my head all the way home that morning, and I stopped several times to clear my eyes.
I returned to that bench often to talk to you, and I swear a couple of nights I saw you standing over there as if you were waiting for me to come and sit. You looked young and lovely, like your senior portrait in the hallway, and I knew any and all physical suffering was something you’d never endure again. It was as though you took the time to come check on me, and then one day the bench was gone. It hasn’t felt the same there since, both the guilt of praying for your merciful departure or your presence as if you were listening. However, I will never look on a sunrise the same for all my days.
It’s as though I’ve tried so hard to busy myself since then. Maybe if I keep moving I won’t fall down again, and I can only hope I’ve made you proud along the way. Being a grand-dad is something I still haven’t fully adjusted to, but like everything else I’m sure time will polish the edges.
Saying I love you and I miss you seems so understated, so inadequate, and yet what else can I say instead?
But I think of you every time I see a pair of empty shoes.
Godspeed, Mom…until we meet again.
Your baby boy,