July 10, 2013 began in the usual fashion.  When the alarm sounded at 5:30, I nudged my sweetheart and prodded him to get up and do his back exercises.  We are determined that he will be faithful to doing the therapy that will ease his pain and restore his health.  I lay in bed and planned my day — a bit of laundry, coffee with a friend, some paperwork, and an evening of basketball with my favorite oldest granddaughter.  I would give my dad a call tomorrow morning and report on her exploits — he always loves to hear her accomplishments and to add them to his list of the things that make my life incredible.  “Don’t take it lightly,” he always says when he remarks on my family and its many wonderful people.

The dog and I took a walk around our park and snapped a couple of photos.  Breakfast was out of the way, and coffee with Eileen began with our usual comparing of notes about the things we had done since our last cup of Joe.  In the midst of it all, the phone rang.  It was my sister, and she was calling with the news that our dad had passed away this morning.  July 10, 2013 suddenly went from ordinary to extraordinary, from zero to 60 in one phone call; and I realized in that instant that I would mark this day and forever refer to it as the day my dad died.

I honestly can’t say that I will miss the shadow of a man who had come to spend most of his time in bed and who had trouble pulling his words together to have a chat.  My dad would not want me to miss that man, because he was so much more than his final days.  It is said that when we face the moment of our death, our whole life passes before our eyes.  Today I am reminded that when we hear of the passing of someone we love, our whole life with that person does the same thing.

I am sure that January 13, 1922 was also an ordinary day; but I would not know about that.  To me, January 13 has always been my father’s birthday; and now his life has two dates — a beginning and an end, although I am convinced that he is looking over my shoulder this very moment and watching me type.  As our life together passes before my eyes, I see my dad dancing into the kitchen in the morning, doing a time step and singing to Mom, “I love you so much, I can’t reveal it!  I love you so much, it’s a wonder you can’t feel it.”  Then he would pretend to punch her in the arm and twirl her around before letting her return to cooking his scrambled eggs — the runny kind that grossed the rest of us out, but were his trademark.  I remember how he would line us all up to take our pictures every Easter and make us feel as though we were the best looking kids in the world.  I remember him holding the seat of my bike and running behind, still in his dress slacks and polished oxfords, until I caught my balance and could ride alone.  I think that’s what a father does — holds us steady while we try new things that leave us feeling wobbly, running beside us until we get our balance and can navigate on our own.  I think of all the times he was right there, cheering me on and reassuring me that I could do this thing called life — how he never missed a swim meet, how he always thought I was the best at whatever I decided to do, how he taught me when my son died that it was all right to cry — even if you were a big, strong man.  He taught me the true meaning of love and devotion as he stepped into the role of caretaker after the onset of my mom’s dementia; and it was only when she was unable to be the communicator for the two of them that I really got to know the man behind the curtain.  And he was a wizard of sorts, and the keeper of my family history — of the stories of his own mom and dad and his childhood with his sister, of his escapades in the war, of meeting mom when he was already engaged to the girl back home and knowing in an instant that he needed to do something about that.

We talked, dad and I, about life and death, about life after death, about taking on the burdens of being human and about gradually laying them down so we can move on to what lies beyond this life we lead.  We talked about his guardian angel; and I just know she lifted him out of his shell today and carried him up toward his home.   Again, I can feel my father’s hand on the back of my bicycle seat, helping me find my balance; and I can feel him giving a small push as he releases me to ride on my own, with the wind blowing my hair and the streamers on my handlebars dancing in the breeze.

Thanks for the ride, Dad.  It sure was fun!  Until we meet again, I will cherish that ride.  “Don’t take it lightly.”  That’s what my dad would say.