Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Six Years Ago Sometime in October

Six years ago sometime in October, someone had an idea that there should be a family photo.  There seemed to be a frantic urgency about it.    I don’t remember whose idea it was, but I do have memories of the assigned day.  Picture day.
We were to meet in the park.
The ground was covered with leaves that crackled and rustled as I scuffed through, kicking them aside, making a path for myself, waving to the others, hurrying to get to them.
The young kids were excited.  Why wouldn’t they be?   They were set free in a wide open space with bright Crayola colored things they could climb up,  hang upside down from, swing high and slide down.
They could use their outside voices to call to one another.   “Over here, come over here!  Mommy, Daddy, Grandma, Pop-pop, look at me!”
The youngest one, honing his newly acquired walking upright skills,  was happily exploring,  one of us always close behind him, sometimes having a hard time keeping his pace.
I remember the photographer was late.
The daylight started to fade, bringing with it the end of day chill.
The adults were getting impatient.  I suppose at that point so were the kids.
Joe was tired, he said.  He was cold, I could see that. “Why don’t you sit in the car and rest?” we said.
The photographer sent a text apologizing, but promised she was on her way.
“Why don’t you go sit with Joe for a while,” Ross said.
Joe was listening to a game.  I don’t remember if it was end of season baseball or start of season football.
I remember thinking how the noise of the radio was drowned out by the silence inside of the car.   I can picture the two of us, sitting side by side, the windows rolled up.
I remember looking out of the front window, watching the others as if I were watching a movie, a movie with no sound. The kids were laughing and chasing each other. The adults were talking, or looking at their phones.  They would often turn their heads towards the parking lot as a car pulled in, hoping, I suppose that it would be the photographer.
Every once in a while, I would glance over at Joe.  He did look tired, so tired.
I still remember what we talked about.  So silly,  what I was telling him.  But, now that I think about it, it wasn’t silly at all.
It was family stuff.  I guess you could call it gossip.  It was the weather.  “It’s getting cold out, right?”
I wanted to tell him so many other things.  Things that were hard to say.  I guess too hard to say.
Today, for some reason the memory of that day came to mind.  The first thought as I roused out of sleep, in fact, was of that day.
I used to have regrets about that October family picture day.   For it was the last time the two of us were alone together.   Why didn’t I say those too hard to say things?  Why was I chatting about nonsensical things?
Today, as I write about that day, though, I began to realize what I was doing.  I wanted things to be normal, you know.  I wanted to talk about the weather, and family gossip, and whether his favorite team was going to pull this one out.  I wanted him to know that we would have more time, much more time to say the hard to say things.  No, we didn’t have to say those things on this day, this family picture day.
You might imagine that I would say to you something like, “Say the hard to say things because you never know if you will get another chance.”  But I’m not going to do that.  Simply because I feel that the people you love and those who love you, that sometimes it’s okay to just sit side by side and be.
As it turned out, Joe couldn’t wait any longer for the photographer.  He was tired, so tired.  Anne took him home and then came back for the family photo.
So even though you might not see Joe in that six years ago October family picture, I can see him clearly, so clearly, sitting side by side of each one of us.

 Six years ago today, on this fifth day of December, 2011, my son, Joe died of colon cancer.  He was 34 years old.