This is one of those days with more significance today than when I wrote it; there was so much we didn’t know, couldn’t let ourselves imagine. This breakfast/lunch would be the last time I’d see and speak to my father while he was still mobile and able-bodied. Sam and I were lucky to get there at all. I was sound asleep on a Saturday morning when Sam darted into our room and said she just received a text from Janet – we were invited to breakfast for Daddy’s 89th birthday, starting five minutes ago. We threw on our clothes and raced over – even so, we were last to arrive and CD and Alex missed it entirely.
The word I used to describe it in this diary entry is so bland – pleasant. Foxy’s is a long-standing Glendale coffee shop on Colorado Blvd. It was another sunny day in California. In a large group like ours, it’s hard to indulge in much intimate conversation but – as he always did – my father engaged everybody at the table individually about what was going on in our lives. As usual, he said next to nothing about what was going on in his. He certainly didn’t mention he was in pain.
If anything, he might’ve urged us to spend more time with my mother, who was struggling to adjust to the nursing facility where she landed. (It would be weeks before we could move her to Solheim, the Lutheran nursing home they had selected for that far-off day in the distant future when they might need one.) Right now, all my mother wanted was to return to her life at their condo. None of us knew that life was already over. None of us knew we were already counting down hours and minutes.
If I’d known, what would I have said? The question haunts me because contemplating what I would’ve said if I’d known makes the banality of what I did say painfully obvious. We probably said “I love you” in the casual hello-goodbye way we always said it, not in the heartfelt way I wish I’d said it. Not like I’d say it if I’d known it was the last time. I would’ve told him he was the best father ever and the greatest blessing in my life. I would’ve said, please stay. I need more time to study the kindness in your face, so I can reflect a fragment of what you gave to me and anyone else who was lucky enough to drift into your orbit. I would’ve said, the world is a colder place without you. Nothing will be the same when you’re gone. I hunger for the sound of your voice. I’ll miss you every day for the rest of my life.
Instead I said, happy birthday. Thanks for lunch, what a great idea. Let’s do it again for my birthday and Janet’s, coming up in less than two weeks. We didn’t have two weeks. In retrospect, I see his tumble during the photo shoot as foreshadowing but on that sunny day in February, it seemed like a careless mishap, nothing to worry about. We had years of sunny days to brunch in our future. Next time, the whole family – including my mother, who’d surely soon be ambulatory – would gather. We’d get everything right next time.
Gordon Nilsen February 21, 2018 at 2:55 pm
My Pastor and dear friend shared a birthday. I remember celebrating my 17th and his 34th together at our house – a cherished blessing. Kathy, he loved you so very much and, I am sure, knew how much you loved him. And today he would remind both of us that “THIS is the day The Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it”. Let’s you and I do that in his honor. With my love, Gordon
skywhys February 22, 2018 at 8:45 pm
Thanks so much for your words and that memory – I don’t suppose there are any photos from that day? Probably too much to hope for – always so good to hear from you, Gordon.
Gordon Nilsen February 21, 2020 at 1:12 pm
Thank you Kathy. No need for the reminder that it was OUR birthday, because I’ve celebrated ‘them’ since I turned 17 on his 34th birthday. (And today I’m 77.) I loved reading (again) your kind and loving words. I especially enjoyed your recalling how this dear man engaged with everyone, inquiring about their lives but saying very little about his own. Unlike so many clergymen, he was never the center of attention – I always felt as if I was so important when I was with him – that he truly cared about me – and, without question, loved me. To this day I continue to return that love. Again, Kathy, thank you for this reminder on this special day. Goedon
Janice Ackles February 21, 2020 at 7:57 pm
The universal guilt…why didn’t I say something meaningful? Why didn’t I ask the right questions? Why didn’t I know that my life was going to change forever? Why?