I am proud of my father. This is something I have discussed with a few people who have asked me how he is doing. My father was socially the more reserved one of my parents. He was always friendly, always one of the first people to introduce himself to newcomers at church, always interested in people. But mom was something of a social butterfly — although this does a disservice to what she was really like. She didn’t flit. She made solid contact with just about anyone she met. She formed relationships easily.
When we marry we talk about “the two becoming one.” This is something that I have seen more clearly than ever in watching my dad without my mom. At Eamonn’s birthday party, a mere two weeks after Mom had died, Dad was his sweet usual self: laughing at the kids as they played, talking with Eamonn’s great grandma about Missouri, kindly concerned that Kathy and I were “doing too much.” At the end of the evening he suddenly jolted and realized he needed to leave or be late for the Good Friday service to which he was delivering the cookies all the grandkids had made. I watched him as he left, after I kissed him goodbye and I felt myself do it the same second I saw him do it — make a slight shift with my vision to look for Mom before remembering that she was gone. His stride didn’t even falter, so maybe it was just me. He walked out the door. Alone.
Does it feel like being an amputee, I wonder?
Tonight after dinner Ryan and I took Eamonn to Hole in the Wall’s dog run. This is a path that runs along the inside edge of cliffs by the sea. To one side is simply horizon, on the other is a field of wildflowers, weeds and ice plant. We walked down a path from our car to the path that ran alongside the shore, so high that a helicopter flew by below us. I stopped here and there to look at wild flowers, a bug ambling through the ice plant, a squirrel hole. Ryan strode ahead of me, eyes on the waves as usual. Using us as two points of parental reference Eamonn ran shrieking with glee off and on, free between us to pick up rocks, run his hands through dirt and sand, chase to daddy and then run back screaming to mom and back off again. We were this ever-changing boundary but totally aware of each other at all times, and of him between us, not even having to think any longer about the balance between us as we ambled on down toward the end of the path and the slopes down to the beach.
At some point, with the lowering sun behind me and the gold day in front of me I watched Ryan and Eamonn walking together and realized that these will be some of Eamonn’s earliest memories. And for us as parents, some of our fondest and achingly far-away memories of becoming a family.
When we got to the end of the path, Ryan and Eamonn ventured forward further than I, afraid of heights to dizzying degrees, could really tolerate. “Ryan, please, don’t let him climb up like that.” He sidled a little closer to Eamonn who was throwing the rocks he’d collected down the side of the hill. Ryan picked Eamonn up and they began to scale down a little further — from where I was standing it looked like a precipice with only the water below and I felt my heart leap into my throat. “PLEASE!” I yelled, sick, “RYAN!” “Babe, come here,” he started to say, but I just whirled around and ran back the direction we came, sick to my stomach and a little dizzy. My gait felt uneven and I ran a few yards just to pound out the thought I’d had for one split second of losing them to the depths below. I ran hard, roughly, away from the edge of the cliff with my mind racing through all sorts of scrambled fears, anger, and mixed up emotions.
Finally I stopped and turned to look behind me and from there I could see what I hadn’t from where I’d stood before — a gentle slope below where Eamonn and Ryan had been climbing, a whole additional platform of earth and ice plant before the real slopes down began. Of course Ryan hadn’t risked Eamonn’s safety. I should have known he hadn’t. But for just that split second of possible loss I was thrown utterly off balance.
I stood stalk still as Ryan and Eamonn came walking back up the path, watching them coming toward me with relief while my breathing slowed. When Eamonn had me in his line of sight again he broke into his run, “MOM!” He laughed and raced toward me for a hug. Ryan walked up to me and we turned and walked together, easily in our normal rythm, back to the car.
When my Dad walks into church and out into crowds of people who ask how he’s doing, when he walks into work and into his empty house at the end of the day, I am proud. When he walks out to sit with us on the lawn while the kids play, when he walks down the hall to their room, when he walks and talks and smiles and loves and cares and hopes, I am proud.
It would be so easy to curl up and hide right now, I think. But he has not. With the same faith and Hope my mom had when it was time to leave, my dad stays.
At church on Sunday I sat with my Dad and it was good to be with him, to have my arm through his arm and his hand over my hand while we sang. At some point during worship, this is the thought that suddenly hit me: From now on, every time we worship, we are doing the same thing my mom is doing, we are worshiping the same God together if in different places. This has given me more comfort, joy, and expectation than I could have ever imagined possible. What wonder!