Life is short. I thought I already knew that fact. I had even written a blog about it. But, looking back on that beautiful September day, I realize that I had no clue how short life really can be. It was one of those gorgeous days in late summer that was acting as if fall was already upon us. The leaves had the first hint of yellow and the air had a crispness to it that belied the fact that the sun was quite warm shining down on my arm.
Dad and I were taking a drive. It had been a long, hard summer of doctor visits and hospital trips. That very morning had been filled with trips to see the oncologist and pharmacist, as well as a trip to buy tires and a quick bite of lunch. Dad was tired, but had a request for me. He wanted to take a drive, or a ride, as he was now unable to drive himself. So, off we went.
As we headed for Gaston County, we rolled the windows down and enjoyed the fresh air. We discussed everything under the sun. Politics, golf and school were all topics of conversation. We talked about my children, how much they had grown and how much he loved and enjoyed them. We talked about the way the area had grown since he was a young boy. And, of course, we talked about doctors and medicines and hospitals. We were eagerly looking forward to the day he could drive himself again.
We drove to Belmont, turned right and traveled into Mount Holly. I would glance over and look at my dad. He would alternately study the sights passing by and close his eyes, as if to savor every last second. As I looked at him, I marveled at the change in our relationship. The most obvious being the switching of roles as he had aged. I was now the one driving him to doctors’ appointments and caring for him when he was sick, but there was so much more. This man who had caused so much pain in my life had become a well-loved part of my daily life.
I don’t think he ever intentionally hurt me. Nevertheless, life got in the way and his manner of living it often conflicted with having a family. I have heard it said that hurt people hurt people and I believe my dad was an excellent example of that. Having never received the love he needed as a child, he simply didn’t know how to love the wives or daughters he had acquired as an adult. Remarkably, despite the fact that he had no relationship with God, he learned to love as he aged. By the time I had moved into the house next door five years earlier, he and mom had a good marriage and he had softened considerably with age and grandchildren.
As we traveled the highway that links Mount Holly to our home in Charlotte, I realized what a bittersweet moment I was experiencing. This man who hadn’t known what to do with me years earlier was now the first person I sought out for advice. I had come to love him in a way I couldn’t as a young woman and he had come to truly like me. I had been given an incredible gift. As I watched him that day, I was saddened by the fact that I may lose him just as we were learning to love each other.
At last we were home. Dad struggled out of the car, leaning heavily on me and his cane. He went in the house and bypassed his desk and chair for the room with the daybed. That fact alone was most telling. Dad could always be found at his desk, watching golf or some news channel or reading the paper, ready to tell us how to solve all the world’s problems. This day, though, he was satisfied to simply lie down and rest. The television was on, but he didn’t even take the time to complain about the channel.
As I walk outside, I think about my drive with Dad last September. It was an enjoyable day and is forever etched in my memory. Today feels so much like that day. The sun kissing my cheeks is warm and the breeze playing with my hair has a chill in it. There will be no doctors’ visits or trips to the pharmacy. This day, my drive is short. I walk to dad’s grave and stoop down. As I clean the cut grass off the marker, I think about how much I miss him. How well I’ve learned the lesson this year. Life is short.
Be blessed and tell someone you love them.