It’s been a tough week. Tuesday, God, was it only three days ago, my mom called with horrible news. I was reaching for my phone before it even rang as I was walking into the grocery store to buy bananas, milk and bread, staples in most American households.
“Where are you,” she said.
That was enough. I knew.
“Call me when you get home, someplace safe,” she said, voice cracking.
I turned around and headed back to my car and tucked myself into the soundproof shell to listen to her give me the details that I sensed before the words spilled from her lips. Paul, my stepdad, her husband for the last 20 plus years, died.
This man, to think of him now or any other time, brings a smile to my face. He was kind and generous and caring to us all over the years, especially to my mom.
He and I didn’t begin our journey on a rosy path, far from it. I was in my late teens when Mom and Paul found each other, and I literally didn’t speak to him for almost a year. He let that be o.k. and gave me the space I needed to come to terms with the fact that he was going to be part of my mom’s life for the long haul. Utter disdain turned into tolerating his existence, but he was patient requiring nothing of me. I learned it was impossible not to like him, but little did I know how I much I would grow to love him over the years.
Thankfully, it didn’t take a lifetime for me to see how good he was to my mom, and slowly I realized that he and I might have something to share. He grew up through a harsh and unfair childhood and saw the relationship that I had with my mom as something special that he didn’t want to disturb.
Over the years we became family to each other as well. There was a connection there, strong and enduring, and I’m blessed to have had the experienced. While mom and I would talk for hours and hours, he would walk through the room wondering in amazement how we could chat so long without ever repeating a single thought. But I know he liked to see that, too.
Mom and Paul moved to Arizona about 10 years ago. By necessity visits became more infrequent and the phone lines played a more significant role, and sometimes I would call just to check in with him. We would banter back and forth about Arizona winters and Indiana tomatoes, I would ask about his golf game, and when life brought challenges we would talk about those too. I always felt privileged that he trusted me enough to share his inner thoughts even when he let them out so infrequently to others.
We have no guarantees in life. When we wake, we really have no idea what day may bring. Today may indeed bare nothing in resemblance of yesterday. What I do have is the knowledge that I am surrounded with people who I love deeply and who reciprocate that bond. But even knowing this, at times when life feels too hectic, too big, too messy, I sometimes find myself focusing on stupid shit that holds very little significance in the grand scheme.
I hate that death is what often reminds me of my blessings. Given the fact that my mom genetically implanted a terminal case of the silver lining, I suppose that I am grateful for the fact that I do understand the fragility of life and try to conduct myself in ways that leaves no unfinished business. I had that with Paul.
I recall my last visit when he and I traipsed out in the desert for a morning walk. The break of day was filled with cool February temperatures as the sun turned the sky a hundred shades of pink with morning rays peaking over the mountains. We kicked up critters that darted and flew across our path as they looked ahead at their day. Much of the time was spent walking in silence interspersed with sarcastic banter that we both enjoyed, but there was good conversation too. It was a great morning and a perfect memory. I’m holding tight to that today.