The last close family member we lost was my dad, now almost six years ago.
That was a stunner. He had been in failing health, but you just never think that one day, he’ll actually be gone.
Having a front-row seat to that level of grief, both for you and surrounding family members, leaves an impact. I know that a lot of the things we do are a part of the grieving process. It’s how we move on. Not that we forget about them, but as time goes on, the pain lessons. For me, I’ve focused on all of the things dad gave me, that we experienced together and that he demonstrated during his days here.
With the recent passing of my father-in-law, Ernie Templin, I’m being reminded of that phase you have to pass through once things have started calming down again: The “First Time” phase.
You’ve mechanically handled as much as you can–the arrangements, letting people know, writing and publishing an obituary and such. For now, you put off things like clearing out the closet because there’s plenty of time for that later. In fact, for the time being, those clothes are a comfort and a reminder of what was. They may even inspire memories of a moment or two.
The moment I was reminded of the “First Time” phase was when my wife and I were driving through Ballard. It was the neighborhood where she grew up and where her parents had lived for more decades than she’ll admit. As we came close to her folks’ home, she remembered how common it was for people to see him walking their Samoyed. As recently as a decade ago, Ernie would walk Misha, sometimes twice a day, miles at a time. He loved those walks and the dog was a friend magnet. Both got to meet a lot of their Ballard neighbors that way.
It was the first time we were driving through this area since her dad had passed and she began to get misty-eyed. I knew exactly what she was thinking and it is just the beginning of moments like this. Yesterday was the first time we had my mother-in-law over since her husband’s passing. The chair where Ernie always sat (and usually fell asleep) was empty for the first time during one of her visits.
Some of the First Times just happen. Others happen because you plan them and welcome the reminder. For example, on April 24th for the Opening Day of fishing season, I’ll be at Lake McMurry, where Ernie and I fished almost every year for the last 13 years.
As the First Times become less frequent, then you start asking yourself questions: Do I start saying “Mom’s House” after a lifetime of saying “Mom and Dad’s?” The caller I.D. says, “Mom and Dad”–should I change that?
Yes, their physical presence among us has ended. But there is no more suffering, no more pain, and I take comfort in that. And really, these special people that played such a big part in our lives aren’t going anywhere. They’re in our hearts, our thoughts, our souls and each gave us the most important gift of all–being able to know them. I could sit down with you and tell you a million stories about my dad. Just thinking of doing that made me misty-eyed, so I’d probably tell them to you with the voice of a blubbering idiot. And then, after a brief break, I could blubber a few stories your way about Ernie.
For that, I know I’m lucky. I’m blessed to have had two positive figures like them in my life.
David Eagleman gets the credit for pointing out that we all experience three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.
Gentlemen, you’re going to have to settle for just the first two for now, because for as long as I can breathe, I’m going to be talking about you.
After all, there’s a lot to tell.