My father-in-law passed away last Monday. He was a good man. A man who lived through some incredible and incredibly tough times. He loved life and his family fiercely. His health had been up and down for years but each time we almost lost him, he came back from the brink – making us think he would be here forever. It seems impossible that he is no longer here on this Earth. I find myself wishing I could rewind time – just for one last meal, conversation, or even one last embrace.
I wish I could tell him that I am so grateful to have seen the solidity, kindness, and love in his marriage. I watched he and my mother-in-law living as best friends for the last decade and a half, and was in awe of how they treated one another. They were everything to each other, best friends. Being a child of divorced parents, before knowing John and Lena, I had seen very few examples of true life-partners and soul mates. I can’t recall one time when I heard them speak to each other harshly. Their life was not perfect, but it was full of grace during the hard times.
If I had one more conversation with “Opa” it would be about how grateful I am that he raised a son so honest, generous, and strong. He was strict but always fair and I see so much of that in how my husband now raises our children. Beneath the manners and expectations there is always love and I think my husband also learned that from his father. I love that he taught him how to use tools, cast a rod, hold the door for a lady, shoot a gun, pitch a tent, use a saw, and row a canoe. He also taught him that retaining a sense of childlike wonder, being able to laugh at a dirty joke, and to not take yourself seriously are great virtues in this sometimes harsh world.
I wish I could tell him that I’m sorry I hassled him about his frequent trips to McDonald’s and his love for all things sweet and unhealthy. I would tell him that I was hard on him only because I desperately wanted to keep him healthy so he could live to see his grandchildren grow up. I desperately wanted my one year old, his namesake, to really know him.
And I wish he was still here to offer us a spare coat from the basement, a well-worn sweater that was always two sizes too big for even the largest member of our family when the winter arrived, dark chocolates from his bedside drawer to any child who peeked in his bedroom when he was napping, and a cold beer from the garage at any hour of the day.
I wish I could tell him that losing him has made me shift my perspective. In some large way losing him, and seeing my husband’s heart break, has deepened our relationship. It has allowed me to see that he is not invincible. He needs my love, compassion, and support more than I ever assumed. I feel myself being gentler and more patient with my husband and I hope that attitude is the new norm for us. It’s amazing to see that good can come from tragedy time and time again in this life.
And lastly I wish I could tell him that his death and the days that followed helped me to better understand why it is that I have carved out this little corner of the universe to blog, share photos, create videos and slideshows, and record my history in the making. I sat on the floor with my mother-in-law, husband, sisters-in-law and children the day after my father-in-law died. We were sorting through pictures and keepsakes from their life together, and I was struck by the beauty and emotion of that experience. It’s the images and written words that will live long beyond us. They are the things that bring a smile to our faces amidst despair and they are the things that help us to slow down and appreciate the moments we’ve had. As I worked on writing this post I realized that the best things that come of this blog are the tributes to others and the sharing of images and emotions that touch our hearts. I am not grateful that my father-in-law is gone – his absence will haunt me forevermore – but I am grateful that in his passing God has helped me and my family to dig deep, love each other more intensely, feel true gratitude for the good things that have happened, and see the wonder that still continues to unfold all around us.
Farewell Opa. Thank you for everything. You will be missed.