It’s strange to find myself at a loss for words. I lost my own father in 2014, and I have the familiar denial again, that my father-in-law isn’t really gone. Surely he’ll be back. But he is gone, and I have an uncomfortable feeling that I took him for granted.
He wasn’t the kind of person to push himself on anyone. In fact, I can remember giving him a hard time about him not wanting attention or gifts. He was frugal, he saved rather than spent, he didn’t buy extras for himself. And yet the same man would show himself immensely generous if someone was in need. I see it now – he preferred to store up his money so he could use it on others. It made him happy.
Isn’t it always the little things that become magnified when a person leaves this life? The chair he liked to sit in by his condo is still there, the ground around it covered in bird seed. The little homemade snow globe my son made a few years ago still sits on the top of his dresser. His calendar is marked to help him remember to take care of his granddaughter when she gets home from school. He had a bag of dog treats ready for the next time he would have taken care of his granddog.
I’m not saying my father-in-law was perfect. He had flaws just as we all do, though age had refined him and created something peaceful and kind in his spirit that made him easy to be around. I guess I’m saying I wish I could have seen the wonderful part more clearly before it was time to say goodbye. I wish I’d hugged him a little longer or spent a little more time sitting across from him on the couch and talking about nothing important.
I struggle to take time to appreciate the little things. I’m not one to sit on a chair in the yard and feed the birds. I hate small talk. I always want life to be big, epic and profound. But how much closer could I have been to my father-in-law if I’d tried things his way? If I hadn’t been so impatient and busy, and I’d just taken the fleeting moments he had left and sat by him?
There was a week several years ago that he came and spent with our family. I enjoyed having him there, but there was one day when I was trying to get everything accomplished and I was finally on the elliptical, getting exercise out of the way. He followed me into the room with his coffee and just sat there as I exercised. At the time I wished he would find something else to do. It felt awkward. Now I see it completely differently. He was trying to be part of my world. He was trying to be present even though I was overly busy. How I would change my attitude if I could relive that moment again!
As I was after my own father died, I’m regretful. But I’m hopeful that my wrong perspective could help someone else make changes in relationships before it’s too late. If you have a person in your life who thinks opposite of you, embrace the differences. Learn to appreciate them. Imagine that person gone from your world and truly consider what would suddenly be missing from your life.
Howard … Dad … I do love you. I wish I’d told you more. I wish it hadn’t taken seeing you on your deathbed to realize how special you are. I’m sorry I took you for granted. I’ll remember you, and your simple, wonderful ways, and make sure my children remember the precious treasure you really were.
So, as my children keep saying, I wish I had one more time to sit and talk to you. Even saying that, I know it wouldn't be enough. It would never be enough. It goes back to that inevitable truth - we weren't made for death. It's not a natural state. I'm so thankful that someday death will be defeated and banished forever. May we all be ready for that day.
Goodbye, my second father. I will miss you.