“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that
in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
Yesterday was September 21. This is a date that means something to all in my family. That day twenty years ago—just a simple date in time—changed our lives forever.
Twenty years ago, my children were still children. At fourteen and twelve, they were still in the first acts of their stories, just on the cusp of Act Two.
My son has spent years working through his understanding of this date that proved so profound in his life. And, to my daughter, the day means something powerful beyond measure. She booked a plane ticket this week from DC to Houston because that juncture of time means so much. I think I’m beginning to understand that certain dates can serve as pivots for who we are and who we become.
September 21, 1991 is the day my children’s dad died.
The day we refer to as The Accident.
It had been a wonderful day. Clear, blue skies, a perfect Indian Summer day. We had this place that we had bought in the country. (And yes, it was truly rural, really “the country” back then). We mowed, he on the big tractor, I on the small one. Afterwards, we sat on the front porch of this tiny house that we had rescued from oblivion, and we toasted one another’s achievement with a glass of wine. We sat there and talked about what we had done with this ramshackled shack and with this property. We talked about all the things we still wanted to do. We decided to go into town for dinner.
Independent Son, who was then fourteen and way too cool to be seen in public with us, decided to stay home and watch Rambo on TV. Daughter, being only twelve and still malleable and in love with her parents, came along to dinner. We went for Mexican food. Margaritas, included. The line of patrons for the restaurant was long, the wait for a table lengthened, and the Margaritas—meant, I’m sure, to keep the customers content and waiting patiently in line—continued to flow.
Dinner enjoyed and finally over, we started the drive home.
I don’t remember the rest. I woke up in the hospital after a Life Flight journey to find out that my husband was dead and that I, somehow, was alive. But, Daughter is the one who remembers. To this day, she remembers more than any of us. Actually, more than any of us can comprehend. And that is why the date is important to her. That is why she took time off from work, booked a plane ticket here, and wanted to be with me and with her brother to commemorate this date.
Dates to me don’t mean a whole lot. Even cemeteries don’t mean much. I know a body is buried there, but I don’t believe the person I once knew so well is there. We are spirit. We are something other than this earthly body, and I cannot stare at a grave in the ground and believe that the man who was so ebulliently alive is there now.
Still, that grave of my children’s dad means something.
Son sometimes goes there in those moments of turmoil, of confusion, of decision-making. It serves as his rock, his refuge, his altar of forgiveness.
Yesterday, the three of us gathered there at the cemetery to remember and share what it means to be a family. This man and this father left a legacy: he left a wife and two children who remain a tightly knit unit. We have each other, and we have the cohesive bond of his memory.
Yes, there are issues of loss and longing and questions. There are the issues of guilt—of have I forgotten too much, moved on too far? Have I lost the connection that was once there? Have I forgotten his voice, his smile, his love? Have I let another, a man whom they love and see also as father, usurp the role of their dad?
But there are gifts that have come out of this commemorative day, ones that I know are only just beginning to surface. Friends who remembered this day so long ago have taken the time to call or comment in emails and on Facebook. Mere children at that time so long ago, classmates of Son and Daughter, have talked about how this event impacted their lives in a monumental way. There are memories that we had forgotten but that have miraculously surfaced from shared recollections. We recounted stories—most of them quirky and funny—that made his life so special to all who knew him. We shared poignant events in his life that shaped the man he was. Times that made our hearts sad. But also times that made our hearts glad. With him, we traveled as a family, and this man showed us the world. His influence formed the paths we have taken in life. His was a life well lived. And I, for one, am a better person for knowing him and sharing twenty wonderful, adventure-filled years with him.
My daughter says she wants to piece together the man who was her father. She wants it all—the good, the bad, the ugly. She wants to dig into the past and find the anthropological essence of who this man was. And she will. With my help, with her brother’s help, with the treasure trove of letters and snapshots and scrapbooks that have been saved over the years, she will find the man she seeks. And my children will then know all the strengths and weaknesses and foibles of this man’s life. We are not one-dimensional beings. We are…after all…human.
Their father, I can say with all the force of my being, lived a good story, and they were a part of that story. They can carry that with them through their lives.
And, yes, it’s just another date in time. But it commemorates a man who lived something special.
This man lived a good story.