I lost my father this year. He was 85, so he had a long life. And in his final conscious minutes on earth, he gave his family a gift: a spectacular first sentence for an obit. James V. Lackey Sr. died following a bicycle accident.
In reality, his heart gave out. He had trouble breathing; he could barely walk down the long hall of his retirement apartment without gasping for breath. His widow and five children will never know what possessed him to walk down that long hall, out the back door of his apartment, and hop on his bicycle. Tenacity? Stubbornness? The need for a cigarette, an embarrassing habit he tried to hide from family and friends for 72 of his 85 years?
Maybe it was my fault. The last conversation I had with him, I asked him if he would ever be able to ride his bike again. He had recently been released from the hospital where he was pronounced too weak to undergo the triple-bypass surgery he needed to live a longer life. He asked his physical therapist the bicycle question the next day, and the therapist gave an encouraging, probably too optimistic, answer: “Sure, some day.”
He did not mean the next day. And so my father rode his bicycle into the figurative sunset and provided his family with an interesting obit. As All Saints Day approaches I realize that no person we love ever dies. We might never see them again physically. But they remain with us. Their ideas, their jokes, their way of speaking, their oddities, their endearments (and in my case their ears and nose): We call up these memories when we miss them. Or when we look in the mirror.
I will light a candle for my father this All Saints Day, and pray I won’t light a candle for my mother for many years to come. Who is the saint (or not) you will remember this year?
Terri Lackey is the fourth of five children and managing editor of Gather magazine.
Throwback Thursday photo: A sunny Easter day–from left, Jimmy, Doug, Terri, Becky, Jennifer & Dad. Mom is taking the picture, and so it is a tad off-center.