My father was sick for many years with COPD and emphysema. We all knew he would pass on before my mother, unless of course she had a tragic accident or an unexpected illness. Thankfully neither of those happened, and sadly, my dad died on February 28, 2015.
Before he passed, I always believed it was my mother who singlehandedly kept us connected as a family. She was the one who made sure we gathered together for birthdays and holidays. She spent, and still does, hours in the kitchen cooking and preparing delicious meals that we all know have been made with love.
And for those who live far away, she is the one who calls and sends cards, wishing them a happy birthday or well wishes after surgeries or illnesses. She remembers every event in our lives, from her own children and grandchildren and great grandchildren to her siblings and her in-laws, and their children. I’ve often wondered if she was a savant when it comes to dates. When I ask her how old someone is, she doesn’t give me a number, she gives me a flow chart of relationships. “Let’s see, your Uncle Charlie was 59 in April, so that would make Aunt Mae, 62, but she won’t be 62 until the 3rd of December because she’s 3 years younger than your cousin Bob.” Huh?
It didn’t seem like my dad had much of an influence on the emotional connection for our family, but I could’t have been more wrong. Since he’s been gone, I’ll say what I think we’ve all been afraid to admit, but our family gatherings haven’t been the same. Sure, we still have the same food and the same people, save my dad, but he played such a significant, and sometimes enigmatic role in our family, that his absence makes it feel like we’re on a ship without a captain.
I didn’t realize how much my dad did in his later years to bond us as a family until after he was gone. I didn’t see it at the time how his humor, the way he’d wink at my 8-year old daughter across the dinner table, his wisdom (me: dad, what do you think about term versus whole life insurance policies? Dad: stick with term!), nicknaming my son “Charlie Brown”, and just his presence guided us and gave us a sense of security and we could relax knowing he would take care of everything.
When someone like my dad dies, a captain like my dad, such an “in-charge” kind of guy, the ship drifts for awhile. None of us were sure which direction this thing was taking, what port we’d end up in.
But I’ve noticed that we have a couple of new captains that have stepped up to drive this ship when needed. My husband is one. He’s done so much for my mom that my sister and I can’t do, like lifting heavy things, or figuring out the best way to handle a difficult situation with an attorney or a financial shark, I mean, advisor. He’s taken over my dad’s job and done her taxes since 2015. Craig can make decisions quickly and easily and my mom needed that, especially the first six months after dad was gone. Craig stepped up and helped her decide to get rid of two vehicles and purchase one. My mom knows she can call (or text) Craig any time with any question and he will take her seriously and answer her with his best solution. I know my dad sees that she’s in good hands.
My son, too, has been a huge emotional support for his grandmama. When dad died, I know it ripped Andre’s heart in two because he and granddaddy were like two peas in a pod. They were close and so when Andre came home from college and saw grandmama, they hugged and cried together. He calls her on her birthday, and remembers the anniversary of grandaddy’s death and calls her on that day, too. Andre is a rock for our family and a natural leader who bonds our family like glue.
Then there’s Cody, my nephew, my mom’s grandson, who is always available to help my mom with fixing or building or carrying. He recently came over to build a bench for her. He’s one of these guys that works a 10 hour day, comes over to do something nice like build a bench, and never complains or wants attention for it (Oh, he may not like that I mentioned his name.) He’s an amazing husband and father, too, while we’re on the subject. Our family is lucky to have him.
My dad’s been on my mind a lot recently, and even though the missing him part never goes away, I find comfort in recognizing the ways he brought our family together. Although he wasn’t perfect, and when we were younger, our family wasn’t always a safe place, but as he aged, he became a positive example to his grandchildren of how men have an important part in the emotional health of a family. What he became mattered more than what he was.
The holidays are difficult after losing a loved one. I’m sad if you’ve had a loss, too, and hope that you find some comfort this year. Do you have family traditions that help you through it? If you feel comfortable, please share in the comments section below. It helps to share with others, at least that’s what I’ve found.