Pictures of the Heart

Sometimes when we try to recall an instance in our life, a first kiss or a long good-bye, we find that our memory has blurred and details have been lost. Over time details continue to elude, until finally only a rough framework remains. This is the way it is with me. However, there is one day in my life that I cannot allow to disappear into the vast cobwebs of my mind. It is a day so horrifying, yet so very, very precious, that I must preserve every detail. That day was the last time I saw my parents together, laughing and talking.

That chilly morning in early February, I opened my front door expecting to see my father, instead saw both my parents walking down my front sidewalk, having arrived separately. Mom was stopping by during her break between her college classes. They were happy to see each other; my parents have always been each other’s dearest friend, setting an extraordinary example of what a good marriage is.

Dressed to work on my upstairs renovation, dad was wearing batik drawstring pants, tennis shoes, and an old sweatshirt pulled over a white t-shirt. His standard baseball hat was pulled low over his eyes, hiding bushy eyebrows and dark brown eyes. Just by looking at him, you couldn’t tell that the man was a professional school teacher who had recently retired or that he had a Masters Degree in Divinity. His weathered face, punctuated by a crooked mustache, could easily be mistaken for the craggy countenance of an old farmer, yet upon closer inspection radiated with quiet dignity.

The three of us sat and talked, Dad’s deep voice rising and falling as he talked about his early days teaching and about various close calls he had experienced with mortality. Describing his close encounters with death, he marveled at how each time he had survived, delivered by what he considered, was the divine hand of God. After a bit, I went to the kitchen and made cookies, knowing how Dad loved something sweet with his coffee. Each cookie was barely for mouthful for him, as he smacked and slurped his way through them and a cup of coffee. He then dozed on the sofa, his loud snore a white noise background for my conversation with Mom, his cologne lingering in the air as if he had just splashed it on.

Later, as Mom was leaving, she leaned over him as he lay on the sofa, poking him in the stomach, saying something about the Pillsbury Doughboy and kissing him good-bye. Little did we know that would be the last time my mother would see my father awake, the last time that she would sit and talk with him, the last time I would see both my parents together, alive. Dad then went upstairs to work on the renovation, coming down to get coffee a few times or grab a quick snack, stopping to hug and kiss my baby, Malakai, who adored his grandfather with his eyes, following him around the house in his walker.

These memories are so precious to me, because a few hours after my mom left, Dad had an accident and sustained a skull fracture with severe brain trauma. We spent the next three weeks waiting with him in ICU, hoping he would regain consciousness, praying for his recovery, believing that God would deliver him once more. Despite our prayers, Dad passed away as we all stood around his bed. My final picture of my parents together is when, immediately after Dad died, Mom leaned over him and kissed him good-bye one last time after 36 years of marriage, my mom, a widow at the age of 54.

These are the pictures which I carry in my heart and mind. Those images are precious in my mind, so extremely precious, like faded photos that are falling apart with age and are never again going to be restored to their full sheen. I keep them there for posterity, to remind me of all that I have had, all that I have lost, and all that remains of my childhood. jkb 2000