By Adrea Gibbs
The anticipated passing of a parent evokes an entire spectrum of thoughts and emotions, rational and irrational, those that will be perceived by others as either wholly appropriate or completely inappropriate. Laughter and tears are not all that far apart when it comes down to feeling overwhelmed by the situation. How we choose to express that emotion is a testament to both character and a very personal belief system. Judgments will always be made for better or worse, but in the end, it is how we feel on the other side of any momentous and life altering event that matters. The individual journey culminates in moving upward and onward, in spite of loss, and how we determine we want to honor someone who has made such a tremendous, indelible impact on our lives.
When my youngest brother called to say that our Dad had a stroke, and was being admitted to ICU, I feIt numb. We decided he was going to stay with Mom and Dad and I would call our other two brothers. The conversations weren’t particularly long, but it put us all on high alert. I am not sure any of us fully connected or wanted to fully connect with what might really transpire.
About an hour later I spoke with Mom who told me the Doctor said to “gather the family.” Calls were made. Flights arranged. Jobs notified. Spouses offered all the support imaginable. We all scrambled and made it to Dad’s bedside. As one can imagine a lot occurred over that brief period of time. As difficult as it was, everyone agreed we needed to let him go, but with a caveat. We would give him the send-off he would expect from us. One filled with a recounting of our fondest memories and lots and lots of laughter. After all, that was the foundation of our family. Have fun, will guffaw.
Suffice to say we did well to honor him in that manner, to the point where the staff had to close the door because of the ruckus we were making. Lots of reminiscing accompanied with gales of laughter, tears and most of all, a truly heartfelt, joyful celebration of everything that made Dad our Dad. Our hero. Our mentor. Our in-house master of silliness. Our friend. The attending staff kept coming in and out to check on him and us, and we think, to hear the stories we were sharing. We know he was hearing it all, chuckling with his trade mark “he he he,” all the while. At one point the nurses brought in a basket of goodies for us; coffee, muffins, cookies and such. We quickly deemed it to be a “parting gift.” We know Dad loved that.
To be honest, when my time comes, I can only hope I will go as gracefully, surrounded by as many chortles and stories and love as my Dad had. It was an amazing experience, so much so, the staff told us that how we sent my Dad off was the way everyone should go. No wailing. No rending of garments. Just smiles and tears and arms wrapped around one another, everyone touching my Dad as he gently slipped away from his body and onto our shoulders to watch over us. Absolutely epic.
Clearly emotions were high, but we all suddenly found ourselves using it to fuel an offensive play to take on and care, with immediacy, whatever we could address. Anything to help keep things as smooth as possible for our Mom who had just lost her soul mate and partner of 64 years. We determined a key primary objective was to clean out the shed on their property. Now that may not seem like one of the first tasks that should be checked off the proverbial “to do” list, but it was something Dad had been wanting to do. But putting this off is what many of us would do given the choice between mucking out storage or taking a drive somewhere more interesting. Collectively, we decided it needed to be done and finished up before the last of us, me, headed back to our own homes. So it was one less thing with which Mom would have to concern herself.
To say the shed was packed to the rafters may be an exaggeration, but not all that much. It was, in short full, due in large part to a couple of things; when our folks came back from trips they would unceremoniously stack things inside with the intent of getting it sorted out and put away at a yet-to-be-determined date and acting as a holding facility of assorted shipping boxes (that some point in time would be delivered to the “yard sale,” committee coordinating the community yard sale). My brothers, our eldest niece and I pulled things out, stacked, sorted and tossed the eclectic collection of clothing, books, art supplies, tools, maps, kitchenware, suitcases, holiday décor and…well, it was nothing short of miraculous what we found. We finally managed to get everything out so we could clean and do some small improvements to make it a little more functional. Then it happened. One of my brothers had swept the floor feverishly. As he finally made his way to the door I walked in, also broom in hand, to do a follow-up. He had left it practically spotless, save for a single almond on the floor, which I mentioned as I swept it out the door.
My brother looked up, somewhat shocked I had found anything, let alone an almond. He said it seemed every time he turned around there were almonds on the floor. He was sure he had finally gotten them all up. Mom was certain there weren’t any almonds in there, but did comment that Dad loved his almonds. We all laughed. Then it got weird.
As we went through boxes, sorting into keep, donate, trash, the occasional almond would pop up. That was followed with handfuls of almonds. We were convinced Dad was sending us signs that he was with us, laughing alongside. At one point I opened a carton that contained some of my Dad’s shoes, including his hiking boots. As I pulled it out, I noticed an almond carefully balanced on the laces, and as I pulled back the tongue found the entire boot filled with almonds. My Dad was laughing, again, and letting me know he was there with me.
Everything was put back into the shed, which was now easily navigable for Mom and presumedly, almond-free. Mom and I then took the opportunity, before my departure, to adventure into their storage locker to grab a few things, one of which was my Dad’s suitcase so I could carry it back with me. After extracting, Mom decided to go through it to make sure there wasn’t anything in there that shouldn’t be left inside. As I was returning things to their rightful place, she called me over. There in her hand, removed from the interior pocket, was a bag of almonds. Unbelievable. We both laughed until we cried. Almond Joy has taken on a whole new meaning.
Death will happen around and to us all. We don’t know when, or how or where it will transpire, but it will happen. Whatever your personal belief may be, as to whether there is a hereafter or not, there still is a bit of comfort in seeing something that reminds us of those we love in our hearts and minds. Our Dad was an amazing man who will forever be with me, whenever I hear a burst of uncontrollable laughter, or find that random almond.