You never know when your kids are going make an important disclosure, or share a troubling feeling. More often than not, it is in the car.
“I am not comfortable with Dad’s not being at Grandma Ann’s memorial service,” my daughter says, seemingly out of nowhere. We’re driving to her boyfriend’s house.
“I know what you mean,” I say. “It doesn’t feel right, does it?” My gaze flickers from the road to the rear-view mirror and back again.
“No, it really doesn’t.”
My mother-in-law’s memorial service is tomorrow. My husband, out of the country and sick to boot, won’t be able to make the trip home.
“Dad would be there if he could,” I offer, immediately kicking myself for stating the obvious.
“I know,” she says. She is eating raspberries straight from their cellophane package, carefully picking the firm ones first, poking the rest, probing their softness.
“Still,” she says.
We approach a stop-light and I brake to a stop behind a moving van. I wait, knowing that I shouldn’t leave the subject at this point, hanging mid-air. My husband isn’t here to speak for himself, so I have to speak for him, offer some comfort to my daughter, some explanation.
“Dad, has his own way of dealing with these things,” I begin. By these things, I mean Death. Dead. Passed on. We have so little experience with it in our family. We were all torn up when our fish, hermit crabs, rats and one ill-fated cat moved on the Great Beyond. But a person? In our family? Unthinkable. The light turns green and I follow the line of traffic through the intersection.
“Dad isn’t much for rituals,” I say. “Birthdays. Anniversaries. Funerals. Christmas. He isn’t a big fan of those things.”
I let a beat pass. If my husband were here he wouldn’t likely have much wisdom to offer on the subject. He’d toss off some throwaway line and carry on swimming the surface. Navigating the deeper territory is left to me. It’s taken me a long time to get used to his ways – how can I expect my adolescent daughter to understand, especially when my branch of the family observes all of those occasions with great care.
“Do you remember when Dad took Grandpa Ken to England? To visit the place where he was born?”
“Yeah, I remember.”
“I think that was Dad’s way of celebrating his Dad’s life while he was still with us. Grandpa Ken was beginning to have a hard time getting around, but he could still do it. And for Dad, that was the important part, that time together, to take a walk through his Dad’s life with his Dad right beside him. Right there! Not waiting until later when he was gone.”
I wonder if I am botching this, but since this precedent is what I have to work with, I seize on it. My father-in-law died several years ago, in a nursing home after a long period of illness, immobility, dementia. We were out of the country when it happened, and my husband did not go home for the memorial. But, while my father-in-law was well, my husband flew with him to Newcastle in England. Spent a week there. Drove around revisiting his father’s childhood.
We glide downhill approaching her boyfriend’s street. Lindsay gives me a thumbs-up, a raspberry carefully fitted over the top of her left thumb.
“Look, mom. A raspberry afro,” she says.
“Omigosh, you’re right,” I say, glancing at her red-headed thumb. The resemblance is uncanny. “How artistic of you.”
I adjust my focus to the road ahead. We are silent for a moment. Have I’ve gone on too long?
“Dad does his best,” she says. “We all do.”
“Yeah, he does.” I nod my head, as if to convince myself. I feel as though I am limping off-stage, gracelessly dropping a subject for which I have no adequate answers.
“Do you want the rest of the raspberries?” she asks. Her tone is brighter, her mood lightened. Or is that my imagination?
“Sure,” I say, pulling into Nick’s driveway. She hands me the package and I plonk a berry on my own thumb, show it to her.
“Imagine Dad with a raspberry afro.”
“Yeah,” she laughs. “I can just see it.”