I nurse the stab wounds on my thumb from the thorns I didn’t know were hiding on some of the otherwise benign-looking greenery (not roses!) from the casket spray at my father’s memorial service this past weekend. Meanwhile, the eight abundant vases of arrangements we created the day afterward (how the stab wounds came to be) continue to decorate the house and make my nose run with the familiar death-perfume of the Stargazer lilies. (Sorry, Stargazers, but that appears to be your lot.) The leftovers from the post-memorial luncheon carry on with their aggressive coup of my refrigerator space, and I can’t yet bring myself to just throw it all away, though I’m getting closer.
Today, my sister and I began our long-delayed cleanout of my parents’ condo. I guess it really wasn’t too-long delayed, but it’s something we honestly could have begun in the void in time between when mom died last August and dad’s passing a couple of weeks ago. We talked about it, but even though we both knew the sooner we began, the sooner we’d be through it, neither of us seemed able to motivate ourselves to get into it until now. Until after family and friends gathered to remind us of the love our parents sowed. Until we held ourselves to the even sadder duty, last night, of attending the memorial for Michael, the 50-year-old son of my father’s lifelong best friend, who passed away suddenly and unexpectedly a week ago.
I’ve mentioned in previous posts that each of our parents was an only child. We therefore had no first cousins growing up. It was only in this past week that we realized that these family friends, whom we saw and hung out with several times each year throughout the better part of our childhoods, were like the cousins we never had. My sister and I lost touch with them after high school as we tumbled headlong into our own futures, but my dad and mom certainly didn’t. We only had a moment with Michael’s sister, brother, and nephews last night, but they all brightened as they saw us, each one of them telling us how sorry they were about the loss of our parents, recalling fond memories of them and the impact they had – even on Michael’s nephews.
It’s tough to describe how touching that was. This family, so wracked with grief at an untimely, truly tragic loss, consoling us with their happy memories of our parents. It left me a little breathless, and even more humbled at our parents’ impact. It wasn’t grand, or public, or sweeping. But it was important, in the small ways that only genuine human kindnesses can be. It added another brushstroke to the evolving portrait of who our parents really were – a portrait that will never be complete to us, but one that’s painted into the texture of the universe.
There will, I’m sure, be more of these revelations as we move through the process of separating ourselves from the things mom and dad left behind. The possessions, especially the photographs, tell their tales in many ways. But no photo or photo album or home movie will ever say as much about who they were than even the shortest snippet of a memory shared by someone whose life somehow touched theirs. The immediacy of their loss will fade, of course. But the promise of an ever-growing discovery of who they were through the stories of others is an idea that will continue to blossom, even when the flowers and my stab wound are long gone.