Today, if he'd lived, my dad would be 80 years old. He'd have hearing aids, at least one knee replacement, but would be sharp in mind, keen in wit, and...our deck would have been replaced three years ago, because he would have seen to it. Yes, that breaking-down deck would have been sticking in his craw for months until he got it done himself. And he'd have flown back to my brother's in Plymouth to help with a patio project, then up the turnpike to a grandson's to help with some of his remodeling projects. He'd have made sure my sister had her home in working order, now that she's a single mom, and my other sister's deck stayed in constant repair, since he was the one who designed and built it. And her daughter's house in Dusty, now being remodeled? His hands would have been all over that as well. I don't know what he'd have done for my older brother, but there'd have been something. Dad was no discriminator when it came to helping out his children.
And, if he'd lived, Dad would have gone on the short hikes my siblings have taken together, and the long one they took in Alaska one summer, and he'd have reveled in the scenery and the company--of his kids, his grandkids, and the others on the trail. And there would have been more hikes he'd have organized, and more of us would have joined them, even those of us mighty reluctant to join any hike. Somehow he had the ability to make such things palatable, the hauling of belongings along a mountain path, the smelling of campfires that lingers in one's hair, the taste of dried foods, and even (oh the horror) oatmeal, that one consumes with vigor and even joy because the hunger of the trail creates such a need.
And at 80, he'd have been through a few more things with us. The marriages of his son and a few grandchildren, he'd have rejoiced in. And the divorces in the family he'd have felt deeply because he loved so much. And the deaths: his sister, his mother. The long absence of a son, then his strange and sudden reappearance in a phone-call telling us he'd died. Dad would have been with us that long, hard week that tore at us and between us as we said goodbye to that brother. And most of all, of course, Dad would have been with us in the journey of losing Mom long before we lost her. He would have watched her forget words and her wallet, forget to turn off the water and the heat, forget TV channels, and what the TV was, forget how to read maps and how to tell time. Forget the way home and forget what home was at all. Forget who we were and forget who she was. Forget who her children were and forget who her mother was. Forget how to walk, eat, use a straw, take pills, pee, speak....
Dad would have been there for all of that if today was his 80th birthday, rather than simply the anniversary of his birth. And if he'd been here for all of that, I wonder what if would have meant. For my sister, who bore the brunt of the burden, life would have been immeasurably easier. Dad's broad shoulders would have carried the load--as they always had. She could have simply leaned into him and helped, and who she'd be now, I can hardly imagine. Maybe it's better not to try. But the question today is, who would Dad have been? What would carrying that hard burden have done to him? What does it do to a spouse to bear the weight of so heavy a load?
I think Dad was spared the end of Mom's life for two reasons: For his own sake, he wasn't built to be a nursemaid. He wasn't built for quiet pursuits and patient activities. He needed to do and act and move. He died before he even retired and I have a feeling this is exactly as it should have been for him. The quiet life wasn't going to cut it for him. He would have gone crazy. And Mom's diminishing capacity would have been increasingly hard for him to manage, though he'd have been valiant in the attempt.
And for our sake. Had he lived to blow out 80 candles on a cake today--and I'd give a lot to be baking that banana-nut cake for him!!!--we wouldn't have learned what we did with our mother. Some of it was hard. The roughest terrain a person can travel, for RE and her family especially. But I have to believe, because I believe in a Sovereign God who does all things purposely, that He used it to grow and change and expand us. To change us from what we were with Dad among us to something more that we could not have been if we'd been able to lean on him.
And I believe that whenever He takes away (or takes home) something from your life, He does so because He intends to change and shape you into something more. From glory to glory, scripture tells us, He is changing us. So of course that means--at times--the removal of something good to shape the better in us. And eventually, despite the pain of it, we can tell it's worth it.