Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Navigating the Uncharted Waters

There are certain sentences that I never expected to say.

"Could you make that tattoo a little bigger, please?"

"I'm sorry, I'm just not a fan of chocolate."

And of course, "I'm having lunch tomorrow with my father's fiancee."

But there I was, explaining to the pastor why I would be leaving church early and couldn't play the final hymn, and suddenly those words were coming out of my mouth. (The words about my father, not about the tattoo or chocolate. I still never expect to say those words.)

It must have been dreadfully hard for Dad to tell us in January that he and a lovely widow had been keeping company. Even though Mom had been gone for two years, he knew we all still missed her terribly. She had been the foundation of our lives, and we had been filling in the empty spot beside him with our memories of a woman who was the kindest, most gracious, most give-the-benefit-of-the-doubt person who ever lived.

But Dad, without a life partner after 58 years of marriage, had been desperately lonely. He hated going to Rotary dinners alone. He cringed every time he sat by himself in church. He rearranged his schedule so that his swimming was done as late in the evening as possible, so that he didn't have to come home to the big empty house where he and Mom had raised their family. He and the Lovely Widow had known each other for decades; he and her husband had been in a barbershop quartet together, and this quartet sang at my wedding. When he saw her sitting alone in church last fall, he invited her to lunch.

The rest, we might say, is history, except that it is a history in the process of being written. As I cryptically wrote a few months ago, these are uncharted waters. I have been sorting out my feelings, one moment overwhelmed with delight that Dad will be sharing his life with someone who also shares his love of music and swimming, the next moment overwhelmed with grief because at age 57, I still miss my mom and knowing that her house will belong to another woman feels a little bit like an erasure.

Mom, though, put the joy of her family above everything else. One of the worst descriptions I ever heard her use about someone was that he was a "dog in the manger"--comparing him to the snarling dog who couldn't eat the hay but insisted on frightening away the animals who needed the nutrition. She would be ashamed if our memories of her kept our father from finding happiness again with a woman who both loves him and honors the memory of his first wife.

So I was at peace as I chatted with Lovely Widow Saturday night, watching Dad's face light up as he came into the room. "I haven't taken my evening walk yet," he said to her. "Do you want to come with me?" She smiled, held out her hand, and they walked out the door together. The next morning their engagement was announced in the paper, along with all the other young couples who plan to spend the rest of their lives together.

We're still finding our way, but the waters are getting calmer.


  1. Beautifully put. :)

  2. I really liked the way you wrote about this. It's something I fret-in-advance about with my own parents, and this makes it seem much more reasonable and manageable and even SENSIBLE and kind of AWESOME in some ways.