Brent was the last of the family to drive away this morning. As I was following him to his car, I began to feel that familiar pressure slowly wrapping its ugly grip around my heart. I knew this feeling well, as it never fails to tighten each time I have to say good-bye to one of our children. That grasp of sadness tightens, and my heart seems to shrink just a bit. I feel that sadness push its way up and grow into a lump that fills my throat. The closer we get to the car the larger that lump becomes. As I hug Brent tightly and we tell one another how much we love each other, how fun the visit was, we discuss when we will see each other next, the lump seems to bubble upward and find its way to my eyes, filling them with tears. I blink, trying to keep the tears from rolling down my cheeks, and the lump is now keeping me from speaking. Brent, all to familiar with this routine of mine, gently smiles, envelops me in a big bear hug one last time, and closes his car door.
As I walk alone into the house I am reminded of Steve’s presence by my side during these departures in the past. It was these moments, when any of our children were heading back home to resume their lives, that, as they drove away, Steve would knowingly place his hand on the back of my neck. He would pull me to him, his thumb would gently trail its way from the base of my neck up to my hairline and travel slowly back down until his hand would rest on my shoulder. His words were always the same, “This is what we raised them to do. We want nothing more than for them to go back to their lives, to be healthy, happy, productive and independent.” He would then draw me close to him, smile down at me and allow me time to find myself again.
I almost felt his presence as I walked back into the house alone today...but, Steve wasn’t there and I was one, again, and very alone.
I will be honest and say that this Thanksgiving was a million times easier than last year. I hope there will come I time when I quit marking the holidays by Steve’s absence. The first Christmas, the second anniversary, the third whatever the occasion, since Steve’s death. I can’t do this yet, so this second Thanksgiving without Steve still had its moments.
As we sat at dinner on Wednesday with Lynn and her two children, Brooke and Jared and their children, I sat back as an observer for just a few minutes and thought of Steve. He would have loved being a part of this gathering. To listen to Dylan, almost 16, speaking in his new deep voice, talking with such insight, such decency. To observe Elena, now a sixth grader, so sensitive, so bubbly, so bright, so lovely. To see the joy and delight in Harper and Harris as they reunited with their oldest cousins. To watch their awe as they studied the cell phone photos of the Elsa cake that Elena had made them. To laugh, as only Steve could laugh, when he discovered that while we were all busy talking and eating, Harris was posting the Elsa cake picture, complete with his very own caption, to my Facebook page. That tightening grasp encased my heart for a brief moment and that lump became hard to choke down, as I so longed for Steve to be by my side, his arm draped over my shoulder.
Thanksgiving Day came and my new home was full. Lynn and her children had spent Wednesday night with me. Burton and Brent drove in, Brooke and crew arrived early and the bustle of the day began.
My kitchen was full, Burton making mouthwatering rolls, Brooke and Lynn helping me with the dressing, veggies, and all the makings of an eight course meal, Jared, carving an enormous turkey. Everyone circulating through the kitchen, grabbing crackers and cheese, grapes and cured sausage. Nibbling as the day drew on.
There was laughter, joy, and festive family banter in the air. Again, I felt that grasp take hold of my heart, and again I wished I could look up from my slicing and mixing and see Steve looking at me across the room, nodding and smiling, the unspoken message that only I felt. Hearing his unspoken words, “Together we made a great family. A family that loves each other, a family that is bound together by bonds that will last a lifetime. A family that will continue long after we are gone.” That lump would find its way to my throat and the tears would well up and I would shake it off and work my way back to the present.
As nighttime came, we all sat outside around the fire pit. The warmth of the chiminea behind us and a patio heater blowing warm air our way, we were cozy, warm and full, enjoying simply being together. Again I was pulled away from the laughter, the chatter, I almost felt Steve nudging me, whispering, “Janet, all this fire is making me crazy...I mean it’s treacherous to have so many flames surrounding us. A spark may well fly up and hit the roof, the entire family would be up in flames!” I had to push down that lump, as I wished for Steve’s over-the-top caution that so counterbalanced my “oh it feels so warm and fuzzy” nature.
Oh, Steve would have enjoyed watching all of us jump all over each other at Thin Air on Friday morning. He would have been in the middle of us jumping on trampolines, playing dodge ball, wallowing all over one another. Witnessing his adult children, as well as his grandchildren, doing flips in mid air, might have brought quite a few winces and teeth sucking (you would have to have known Steve to understand teeth sucking) afraid someone would surely ending up in the E.R. with a major body part broken.
Steve would have been the first to gather us all up and shuffle us off to Chris Madrid’s for our annual post T-giving “the most delicious hamburger ever” lunch. He would have made sure we were the first people in line when the doors opened, fearful we might have to stand in line for ten minutes before ordering our mouth watering burger.
Steve and I loved nothing more than having our family together. Our children were always our main focus. Their health, happiness and well-being far out weighed any priority we might ever have had. Steve was proud of his children...every single one of them, spouses included. He was amazed by his grandchildren...all six of them, and loved them with all his might.
I can never fill the empty space that is left in this family’s lives because Steve is no longer with us. I can never fill his shoes and give them the sage advise that flowed so easily from him. I can never remove the ache that lies beneath the surface of the present because he is no longer a part of our daily lives. All I can do, is remind each of our children, each of our grandchildren, of Steve’s incredible legacy. Of the imprint he placed on each of their lives, on my life, and be thankful that we loved him and he loved us for the time we had him.
As I write these words the grasp again tightens around my heart, the lump is rising deep within my throat. Tears blur the words on this page, but my heart is full of thanksgiving for being able to share a life with a man that will in one way or another always keep me from feeling that I am only...one.
For what it’s worth,
Psalms 107:1 “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good’ his love endures forever.”