Pasted below is a piece I wrote for Sally Clarkson about this time last year. It is, right now, the best I have to offer in this space. My precious father-in-love died peacefully in his sleep Sunday morning. I honestly don't know what that means here for the next few days and weeks. Usually, this is my place to think aloud. Yet, I am not at all sure that this is where I will be drawn as my family and I live these moments. Right now, I'm just trying to hold everybody close. He was a giant of a man in every sense of the word and he leaves a giant legacy, a giant memory, and a giant hole.
Your prayers are much appreciated.
I stood next to my new sister-in-law and whispered, “Where’s your dad? I’m going to ask him to dance.”
“Oh,” came the reply, sure and swift, “he won’t dance. He never dances.”
“I think, perhaps, he will.”
And I floated off in his direction, feeling every bit the princess in a fairytale. I was The Bride that day, eager to share with everyone around me the supernatural joy bubbling up from my very core. Whatever natural shyness and reserve that would have stopped me from asking on any other day was entirely absent that day. I took the hand of my father-in-law and led him to the dance floor. Happily, and without a moment’s hesitation, he danced.
Thus began a love story I never imagined, even in my fondest dreams for happily ever after. My husband’s father, who was 42 when Mike was born, waited a long time to be a father-in-law and then a grandfather. He lives those roles to their very fullest potential. A year from that wedding dance, we did a different dance. I handed him a tiny blue bundle and sat, eyes brimming, while he poured a lifetime of love into his first glance of his first grandson, our Michael.
Shortly after that, I quit my job to stay home with my baby. Granddad retired. We both had a sense that we didn’t want to miss this, not a single moment of this, and we were going to live it intentionally, squeeze every little bit out of the gift we’d been given. We were going to dance this dance with every beat of the music.
A little over a year from then, I was diagnosed with cancer. My father-in-love and I developed a new cadence. During the months of chemotherapy, he came over to just “hang out.” Truth be told, it sort of annoyed me sometimes. I’m a very independent sort and his presence seemed to shout, “You can’t do this by yourself. I’m here to catch you should you fall.” In hindsight, I couldn’t do it by myself and the hours he spent on the floor playing Legos, or puttering about the house fixing things or taking Michael for grand adventures to feed the ducks were probably as necessary to our survival as a young family as the surgery and the medicine. We had one car in those days and Mike took it to work. His father appeared promptly every morning , buckled Michael into his carseat and drove me to radiation treatments. While I got zapped, he and Michael sat in the car and sung classic children’s songs. Michael was absolutely convinced the outings were just another one of Granddad’s grand adventures.
With the next few babies, he still appeared, all the time. He’d push a vacuum or trim a hedge, little jobs that were a big help. And so much more. We were a young family who knew that this great bear of a man would move mountains to see us thrive.
On Father’s Day, when Michael was six, we gave him two blue folding chairs, a tribute to his pledge to never miss a soccer game. He had no idea. We had no idea. In all, there would be five boys and four girls in our family. That blue chair would travel far and wide. Granddad would set up camp whenever, wherever, whatever the weather. From tiny fields in our backyard to university stadiums to watch Michael play--the sidelines where Patrick scored the winning goal in the State Cup, the bleachers where Christian was MVP of the state basketball championships, and the fine manicured fields of Patrick’s National Team play.
He was there. Always there—dance recitals, doctor’s appointments, play rehearsals. For every baptism, First Communion, and Confirmation. He was with me the first time I discovered the bluebells. He showed us by his presence that we were his first priority.
Someone asked me not long ago what the hardest aspect of middle age is. I quickly answered that for mothers of many, it must be the challenge of meeting the farflung needs of the older ones, while ensuring the little ones have the cozy, careful childhood their siblings did. Today, I have to change that answer. In the past few weeks, Granddad’s health has declined. He’s been in and out of the hospital. The strong man who stood behind my huge van and directed traffic every single time I backed out of a playing field parking lot cannot move from one room to another without a walker. He travels with an oxygen tank. His movements are slow and unsteady. But he stills travels. Last Sunday, a few days out of the hospital, he stepped from our car onto the sidelines where Patrick was playing. Mike helped him to his seat. Oxygen tank beside the blue chair, he watched the game as he always did, 7 or 8 grandchildren on a blanket at his feet. He watched the game. And I watched him, unable to will my eyes away from that beloved face. Today is my 25th wedding anniversary. As I observe the slow, careful steps of the frail ashen man I have grown to love so dearly, I cannot help but think of the scripture we heard together, all those many years ago.
And Naomi said to Ruth, "Look, your sister-in-law has returned to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law. But Ruth said, "Do not ask me to leave you, or turn back from following you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your God, my God."
I could not have imagined then, in that church, how tightly knit into my heart would be the father of my husband, how much he is my own. He is almost 89 years old now and though we hardly dare to breathe it, I know that this dance, begun on such a sparkling September day a quarter century ago, is soon to be over. As the music fades, I thank God for the great, good gift of knowing and loving the finest father a girl could ever hope to have. I thank Him for the gift of having danced this altogether beautiful dance.