After spending a wonderful weekend celebrating the high school graduation of my daughter, much of the past two days have revolved around cleaning up the aftermath- packing away formal wear, cleaning up the 45 pairs of shoes littering my bedroom floor, vacuuming. Living in the moments are more important to me than dusting and tidying, so at times like this everything just sits until it’s over. When was the last time anyone ever remembered how clean everything was at a barbeque, or party?
It was while I was wiping down the kitchen today that the phone rang, the caller ID showing my dads work number. I knew something was up. My dad didn’t call to let us know he arrived home safely Sunday night, not like he usually does.And then I had missed his call last night and today is Tuesday.
My dad had joined us from Prince George, having driven down last Thursday to see his first grand-child make the transition from student to … well, another kind of student and even more school! A rite of passage for most of us, it escaped neither of us that she was making the journey every teenager looks forward to exactly twenty years after I did.
Time flies, does it not? In the blink of an eye,( or so it seems to me ), I’ve gone from a nervous giddy teen, to being the mother of a nervous giddy teen. This June will be my 20th high-school reunion, and when my father arrived, the first thing my dad did was fret about was whether or not his suit would even fit, given the long PG winter this year.
My dad first bought the timeless, tailored suit twenty years ago so he would do me proud in photos taken to mark the moment of my graduation. And since then, it only leaves the safe confines of it’s garment bag for the happiest and saddest of life’s best and worst. This last weekend, it once again was removed and freshened in anticipation of another generations unleashing upon the world, a wondrous affair full of laughter and happy tears.
The tears on my cheeks after asking my dad how his drive home was , were not so happy though. His voice caught as he told me about hearing the news when he arrived home, that my brother had been among the 5 friends who had gone out for a day of quadding in the area around PG, and came home one short. While riding down an old logging road, something went wrong. One of the riders struck the back of the rider in front of him and there was a horrific crash, leaving one dead at the scene and one injured. My brother was one of the remaining riders who performed CPR trying to bring life back to a friend, to no avail. It is said he must have died instantly on impact after being thrown into some logs on the road. Words cannot express the emotions I felt as I thought of the both the poor fellow who died doing what he loved, and my brother and his friends who must have had the most difficult of goodbyes, waiting there in the bush for emergency responders to arrive.
It wasn’t until after I hung up, and gathered my dad’s suit to pack and send home for him, that I thought how ironic it all was. Here we had spent Sunday after grad in celebration down here, while my brother and his friends( who are my dads as well) were all at home in PG living a tragedy.
I folded the suit tenderly, and inhaling the scent of my dads aftershave on the collar of the jacket, thought about what stories this suit could tell, if it could.
Would it speak of the first time it was worn, twenty years ago, to the day I stood in my dad’s arm, smiling for the camera in among the flower beds at Connaught Hill Park. Royal blue satin pressed against pinstripe fabric as he congratulated me with a hug. Would it mention the feelings of pride and celebration that made the day?
Or would it speak to the magnitude of sorrow it’s experienced, saying goodbye to loved ones, family and friends alike? Would it talk about the tears that flowed, or the laughter the followed the musings and memories of those who stood before the room and honoured the dead? Would it recall the heavy smell of flowers that graced the room, or the coffee that spilled on the pocket when dad was elbowed at the buffet?
One can only guess at the what stories lay impressed upon the fabric of the suit.
Folding the garment bag carefully on top of the folded items in the box, I took one last look before I closed the lid. Just three days ago my dad wore this suit to my daughters graduation – a new beginning, an open door to a new and wondrous adventure in life… and now?
Now it was going home so my father could say goodbye to a friend, a man who loved well and was loved by many, whose adventures through life were abruptly brought to an end, doing what he loved to do. Another life moment. Another story for the suit. I wrapped the box, wrote the address, and sat there at the table with nothing else to do.
And that’s it , I guess. I don’t know what else to write. Sometimes there isn’t a happy ending. But the sudden randomness with which it can all be taken away does not escape me. When my brother and his friends left that afternoon, none of them knew one of them was going to be killed. It could have been any of them. So please, in the words of that wonderful songstress, Joan Baez, remember this:
” You don’t get to choose how you’re going to die. Or when. You can only decide how you’re going to live. Now.”