No one I see daily talks about my father.
You see, almost 34 years ago he died. So my friends, colleagues, even my children, didn’t ever meet him or know him.
And then you add in the tragedy of a suspicious death, whether homicide or suicide, and then even the people who knew him don’t like to bring him up to me because they mistakenly believe it will be a painful subject.
But anyone who has loved and grieved knows that the real heartbreak is in never having new memories, new stories to share about the person. The pain is there whether he is talked about or not.
So the real, unexpected gift this season is treasured one-liners and stories about my dad. Today for instance I received this message from a former neighbor: “I played some tennis with your Dad. What a joy to connect with you again.” I didn’t even remember that my dad could play tennis and this straightforward greeting and message brought back a flood of memories of me playing tennis with my dad—at local courts and on various vacations. Of old wooden rackets neatly hung in the basement and garage. And then more memories that tennis was the jumping-off point, like my dad being a high school ping pong champion and playing it with me for years every night after dinner in our basement. And my youngest son, born almost a decade after my father’s death, competing in a table-tennis tournament on a cruise ship. Does he know his grandfather loved it as well?
Earlier this year, I had more than one individual tell me how they helped my dad eradicate polio. What?!? I am guessing this was through fundraising and education efforts run by the local Rotary Club but it conjures up some pretty funny imagery of my dad in 1950s mad-scientist mode. I chuckle and I know he would laugh at that, too.
My dad was an obstetrician-gynecologist and I worked in his office several years, so I had heard a lot of his patient stories. After his death, I found thousands of thank-you notes to him filed neatly in his desk drawer in which patients thanked him for writing off their bill or accepting tomatoes, corn or gasoline in exchange for delivering a baby. But this year brought me two new stories: 1) My dad going to the St. Louis Cardinals Opening Day series with a patient and her husband just in case she went into labor (her due date was the next day) and 2) My dad writing a letter of recommendation for a now-successful OB/GYN to Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.
While I bought a theatre this year with the plan to bring it back to life and gift it to the community of Effingham, the gift is really one that I have received rather than given, the gift of special stories and memories that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. And isn’t that what this time of year is all about? I hope your holiday season is filled with the gift of memories—with your loved ones today as well as the ones we carry forever in our hearts, no matter how long they’ve been gone.