A life. In 2 boxes.

August 28th was the 6th anniversary of the death of my father.

I received 2 boxes in the mail. I had been told of the arrival of the boxes, in advance.

I should have, therefore, braced myself before opening the boxes which had kindly been sent to me by my step-mother.  Then again – perhaps there are some things against which one can never quite brace themselves. The parcels–and the realization which dawned, suddenly–arrived yesterday afternoon. The excessive wave of emotions hit about the same time. After 6 years – I was not expecting the engulfing wave of emotions which struck.

In the boxes were personal effects which had once belonged to my father. Photographs, his high school diploma, camera equipment, an inexplicable (very old) can of (unopened) snuff, a bag of foreign (Canadian and British) coins, a few stamps,  a paper-covered box from Norway (as noted on the base of the box), 2 boxes of incredibly old matches, a sparkly rock, the remembrance/guest book from his memorial service, DVDs from his memorial service, cards, cards and more cards from his friends (which had been given to him during his unsuccessful [but courageous] battle with cancer), his money clip, several sets of cuff links, tie tacks, his gold watch (that was the first thing I saw which set off the first, of many, crying jags for the day) and his brown wallet. I opened the wallet to find his driver’s license, his fishing and hunting license(s), his Safeway shopping card, his social security card – and the item which (other than his gold watch) set me off the most. A library card from the beloved town in which he lived – and died. Finding that my father–a lover of books for as long as I remember–still carried a library card was very touching. It was also surprising this . . . unknown tidbit . . . learned about my Dad.

My father and I didn’t know each other on a personal level, well. We, however, had an exceptionally clear understanding of one another because we were so very, very similar.
Genetics. Fun for everyone.

A couple of trusted family members (as well as a few close personal friends) are aware of the fundamental reasons behind the complex relationship between my father and I. Others make assumptions which, I guarantee, are incorrect. I have come to terms with that. Those that know, understand. Those that assume they know the complexities of the situation are as much in the dark as they have ever been. That has been by my choice. I, and the very few who are the closest to me, have never indicated the exact nature of those issues. But some people (trusted friends and some close family members) had been made aware. Additionally, of course, my mother knows. My ex-husband knew. My husband knows. I know. My children know. My father knew.

Carefully going through those boxes . . . sifting through the day-to-day “things” which made up the finer details within my father’s life was a gift. It is a gift which brought pleasure, as well as pain. It is a gift which brought realization – as well as further questions. It brought closure – as well as created a new beginning, of sorts. It is a gift which also brought understanding. The arrival of the items brought a certain level of unexpected awareness, too.

I, rather surprisingly–and opposite to anything I had ever imagined–have now become the caretaker of my father’s personal effects. I do not take that task, lightly.

I doubt that is a trait that my father would have assigned to me.

In all of this . . . it seems that he would have learned some things about me, as well.

He had told me when I saw him, last–2 weeks before he died–that he had been surprised.

I hadn’t turned out anything like he had imagined I would, after all.

He had been pleased by that realization.

I was saddened. Saddened by the loss of opportunity to be able to learn more about one another.

I was, and still am, saddened by the tremendous losses sustained when all that “might have been” went up in smoke.

Big Ben

Whilst living in England, I made frequent telephone calls home to my mother. Growing up with her, as I had – she’d always known how much England–and how much the idea of living in England–meant to me. She asked questions, often, about my life there. What I was doing . . . what the boys and I were experiencing and if an English life was everything that I had expected it to be.

English: Close-up photograph of Big Ben clock ...

Close-up photograph of Big Ben clock tower, London, England (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of those conversations, in particular, was my describing to her what it had been like to go into London, my very first time.

I had arrived in London via Paddington Station and had taken the Tube to the Westminster station on the Thames, just across from the London Eye. After I snapped a few photos of the Eye – I told her that I went up the stairs to street level. I had been told that I would see Big Ben at the top of the stairs, on my right hand side.

I reached street level and looked across the street. I looked up and saw Big Ben, in all of its grandeur and glory . . . just as the bells began to peal. I told my Mom that I hadn’t realized that Big Ben was so pretty or so immense. Nor had I ever imagined that it would sound so beautiful. She said that she wished she had been there and I told her that I would take her there when she was due to visit, a few months later. It would be the first time that she would be visiting England. I was very excited for her to arrive and experience everything that I was experiencing, first hand.

My mother is partially deaf. Her hearing aid was being replaced with a stronger, more amplified aid. She expressed concern that she would not be able to hear the Great Bell if her hearing aid didn’t arrive to her by the time of her trip out to see me. In the months that followed I asked, during our every conversation, if her hearing aid had arrived. By the time of her trip out to see us, it still hadn’t arrived. I had wondered, and worried, about how much of England she was going to be able to experience without being able to hear very well.

My mother arrived, as planned. It was with some concern on my part with regard to the subject of her hearing that I took my mother to London. We took a double-deck bus tour, we went to the Tower of London and we took a barge cruise down the Thames. We disembarked at the Westminster station and I looked at my watch. It was 3:58. I had just enough time to get her up the stairs for her to be able to see, and hopefully hear, Big Ben at 4:00.

I grabbed her hand and leaned close to her ear saying loudly “We have to run up those stairs . . . I want you to see Big Ben!” She nodded, smiled and we RAN. We got to the street and stopped short. She looked up at the clock tower and asked “But why did we have to run?” I looked at her and tilted my head toward the clock and said “Listen, Mom.” as Big Ben began to chime.

I was watching her face, holding my breath, waiting to learn if she could hear the bells when she began to cry.

From the look on her face – I had my answer. I began to cry.

She nodded, several times, still looking at Big Ben.

Then she whispered to me:

“I hear them, Cari . . . I hear the bells.”