I saw you tonight.
You were standing on the stairs with all your brothers and sisters getting your picture taken.
I was surprised to see your face. I haven’t seen it in quite a while.
You looked up at me and you had that same look as the last time I saw you.
I walked over and gave you a hug. And I fell into your arms and sobbed. Hard.
I sobbed so hard that when we were done hugging I had that awful can’t catch your breath cry that I used to do when I was a kid.
When I woke up, I just laid there. Silent. I felt water all around my eyes. Had the tears I just cried in my dream somehow made their way into reality?
As I wiped them away, more came and I couldn’t keep up. I just rolled over and sobbed some more.
I usually keep these memories tucked away. Close enough that you are always with me, but far enough away so the day in and day out of the reality that you’re gone doesn’t bring me to my knees.
But not last night. You were so real. And I don’t like to dwell on moments like this because it gets harder and harder to pull myself out of memory lane and that face. That sweet face.
The last one to see you this side of heaven, I drove away not knowing what would unfold…
The friend who found me to let me know that you were taken by ambulance to the hospital. My surprised look when the nurse said another family member had arrived. The small, gray room that held the devastation of those who loved you the most. The doctor’s words that split my heart and world wide open. Seeing you one last time. Hugging your strong frame and examining those hands.
I could write a book about those hands. How they hugged me and my sisters each morning of every day of our lives. How they chopped wood and set traps. Pulled back bow strings and steadied a rifle. The ones that shepherded young hunters in the art of all things wild and what it was to be a man. Hands that never knew a stranger and made every friend a best friend. The ones that accompanied the man with the best laugh and the biggest heart. Hands that grew up on a dairy farm and learned the value of hard work. Hands that people learned to rely on because they knew the character of the man they belonged to. Hands that built our family home. That kept the wood pile stocked and the wood stove burning. That worked the garden and planted the corn. The hands that prayed before supper every evening and drove his family to church every Sunday. Hands that loved my mother. The ones that were always the first to show up and the last to leave. Helping hands.
Twenty years later and the memories always come flooding in, unleashing a river of emotion that no dam can halt. They have to run their course and spill out all over the banks of my life and recall every event of your living and passing, and all that it ushered in and how things would be different if only you were still here. And after all has been remembered, every detail recalled, the waters can begin to recede.
I’ll tell you it gets easier. Sometimes I forget just how good I am at pretending.