At the close of another year, I wondered what I should write. There’s no vacation to share or a grand purchase. No new family member or pet added. Yet this year is too defining to ignore or forget. The year we lost our dad. What an odd phrase. He’s not really lost because we know where he is, but unfortunately, he no longer walks by our side. I miss his daily presence in our shared home. I miss discussing ideas, hopes and dreams with him and feeling his support as I set out to make them happen. I miss his direction and help. I miss cutting his hair and helping him weekly fill his pill box. Mostly, I miss hearing his voice.
I think a lot about Dad’s characteristics. My favorite must be how he taught by example to accept life’s difficult situations and make the best of it. This year I’ve tried to do just that, but I haven’t had the years of experience that he had, and comparatively I fall short. I appreciate his “put your shoulder to the wheel push along” attitude. It was most fitting that a grandchild spontaneously stood up for that song at his funeral. Many of us followed suit as his life is identified in the words and were sung as an anthem to honor him. He truly wears “the worker’s seal.” I’ve sang that song in my head more times than I can count this year as I try to “do my duty with a heart full of song,” as I push through the grief.
My choicest memory this year was a simple 4-wheeler ride I had with Dad just a couple of weeks before he passed in the mountains that he loved. We went to the cabin to pick up some material needed for a home project. While we were there, he wanted me to try out the new machines he just bought. I was anxious to get back home to start on the project. Without Mom’s encouragement I might not have gone. Feeling bad that Mark and Mom had to miss out on rides like this, I thought to video some of it to share with them. I drove slower than usual because I was holding my phone in one hand while driving with the other. Trying to stay out of the dust Dad was stirring up for a clearer picture, you can see him leading the way in the distance. After a bit he turns around and drives back towards me to see why I was so slow. I kept recording as we drove nearer towards each other. I always smile at the memory of my 91-year-old dad thinking I was driving too slowly. Each time I watch it I whisper, “ride on Dad,” and I feel the comfort that he is indeed still soaring through those mountains somehow, free from the health issues he continually fought, and refused to give into.
There have been many blessings this year. As my sister stated, it’s been the best and worst of times. The many family members and Mt. Aire community of friends that gathered at the canyon gate to support and comfort us before they brought Dad’s body down the mountain was indeed a blessing in those most difficult, long hours. Numerous people lined the road on both sides as the white truck drove slowly past us. It seemed like the perfect honor for his final mortal exit through that gateway. The love and support felt that night and at the funeral was the most significant gift of this year.
Since no one witnessed the collision, there were so many troubling, unanswered questions. I felt comfort the next morning as Mark and I parked in the spot of Dad’s accident, trying to figure out how and what happened. Attempting to grasp the reality, I notice a brighter than usual gleam on the evergreen trees and bushes in a spot on the mountainside across the road from the crash site. The vivid shining light seem to tell me that Dad passed away in that area of a massive heart attack, and before his truck crashed. This precious gift from God was an important reassurance, especially because I have lived with the aftermath of a life altering accident for 28 years now.
The brilliant, large evergreen trees reminded me that Dad’s love and life is everlasting.
Just as I was marveling at the view and soaking in these thoughts, a canyon neighbor driving down the mountain stopped and asked if we were okay. I told her I felt we were on sacred ground. Her reply was meaningful. She said, “This whole mountain is sacred because your dad’s hands have developed so much of it.” My perspective of the canyon is forever changed by what I’ve learned this year. Mt. Aire has been our family’s second home literally my whole life. I knew my parents loved the mountain and the people there, but I didn’t realize the magnitude of work my dad did on so many other properties. Sharing their love and appreciation for him has helped mend our hearts. Many of the cabin owners went in together to purchase a beautiful memorial bench. Mom and I worked with my daughter, Katie, to design the picture and the words written by the community on it. The engraving is completed now, but the snow is too deep to place it. We’ll have to patiently wait until May 2020.
Another treasured gift this year is a video a Mt. Aire neighbor took of my Dad giving her four year-old “heavy-duty-equipment-obsessed son” for a ride in the backhoe he used to remove some tree stumps on their property, just a few hours before he passed away. What a tender mercy to see his smile, doing what he enjoyed, in the mountain he loved, in his final hours here on earth. This neighbor not only shared the video with us but also wrote a detailed account of the work he had accomplished for them that day and told of her appreciation for him. She could have kept these thoughts to herself, but I’m grateful she didn’t. Her letter is cherished by our family, knowing he lived and loved life to the fullest right up to the end.
Some years are harder than others. What I hope to remember about this year is the comfort and relief from grief that comes from the acts of kindness, friendships and care from others. I hope to do my part in paying it forward. I hope to never forget the importance of making memories by spending time with family and friends.
The engraved granite back rest of Dad’s memorial bench.
What are your favorite 2019 memories or your best discovered truths this past year?