A new season is coming into my life this year with a simple but hard question, “Can we meet?”.
I hear the question coming from his lips over the phone. My heart stops for a moment, not knowing how to respond. Silence! It was thick in the air around me. Finally, I’m nudged to break the silence as I utter the words, “I’ll let you know.”. And we hang up simultaneously.
As the thoughts swirl through my head, I wonder, “Do I want to do this?” and “What could this mean?”
I go outside immediately to tell my husband what this man, the man that I don’t know, just asked. “He wants to meet”, I said. And as any smart husband would say, “And what do you want?”. Again, silence! I had no words. We parted to think about such a big move.
Thoughts returning to my mind of the google searches and conversations I’ve already had with this man. Thoughts of how my children would feel about this. Thoughts of what everyone else would think. And then I say to myself, “The only thing that should matter is what I want.” But I do care about my children and how it affects them, so I have to have a conversation with them. A decision to say, “Yes”, to the request was made.
I call Ralph back to let him know. I say, Ralph, because to me that is who he is. A man that I don’t know except by name. I’m learning through conversations but still not “dad” to me.
I think back to the last time I remember seeing him. I was 6 years old. The memories of that trip are few. I remember his wife and how she wanted me to call her mom. They had no other children at that time. My young mind didn’t like the thought of that. I remember being ready to go home to the place that I was comfortable. I don’t remember much else but I know there was some play time because I have a couple pictures.
I say, “Yes, we can meet.” and then more questions, where and when have to be answered. He offers to meet halfway. He offers for me to come to his home. Neither work for me. Convenience and comfort plays into my thoughts. We end the call with yet more questions. “Will this question season stop?”, I wonder.
This seems like a never ending roller coaster of questions and decisions. Talking it through with my husband is the only way to find the answers. And we find one.
A couple of days have passed and I know that Ralph is wondering what we will do. He is anxious after 50 years of not seeing me, hugging me, holding my face in his hands. I understand this anxiousness.
We have been talking on the phone and emailing back and forth over the last month, well over 75 emails alone. Today is Thanksgiving of 2016 and family time has come and gone, so I email him and remind him of his question about us meeting. I type, “Tom and I spoke and we thought it might be better for you and Jackie to come to Kentucky and stay with us.”
As those words roll off my lips I think that is a little crazy asking someone that you don’t even know to come stay at your home. But it’s a safe place for me. A place of warmth and comfort in the fall of the season. And in this season, it seems like the most ideal place to welcome in a new season of life.
So plans are made, dates are set and the anxiety of it all brings shivers to my soul. “What will it be like?”, “What will he look like?”, I ask myself.
More emails, getting to know you stuff over the next two weeks. It’s now early December and as the winter season is rolling in so will a new season of my life. It’s the morning that Ralph and Jackie will be coming to Kentucky. I get an email from him saying, “We’re eating breakfast. Today is the day!”. I know that he is over the top excited about today. The verdict is still out of season for me.
The day is here, I don’t know what is running through his mind but mine is a category 5 hurricane with winds into the upper hundreds. I’m at work but can’t work. You know what it feels like to be coming out of anesthesia and the body shakes uncontrollably, that is me about now. I’m currently coming out of a 50 year sleep and awakening to the unknown reality of a new future. It’s time to go home now and wait.
My husband and I are both home from work early today. As a good husband does, Tom stays close and reassures me that if at any time I am uncomfortable to the point that our guests need to leave, he will take care of that. His concern for me brings comfort and the hurricane winds and awakening from the sleep lessen and calmness takes over.
Our dog barks. Is that the bark of a leaf blowing across the yard or a stray cat invading his territory or is it the bark of a stranger pulling into our drive? We look out the window to see and find, it’s the bark of a stranger pulling in. The wind inside me picks up a bit.
Tom and I make our way outside to the back of the house where guests arrive and park. But this was no ordinary guest. This was truly a stranger of 50 years past.
As he steps out of the car, I think to myself, “This is not the man I remember from pictures and my 6 year old mind”. He is dragging behind him an oxygen tank with the hose running up his body into his nose. I consider, “this man, this stranger, is a lot sicker than I knew”. As he is walking towards me, my body has a reactive tenseness. I’m anticipating his body coming close to mine and a hug, holding tight, as any father would want to do after so much time has passed. I push through the tenseness, understanding the validity of the reaction but also accepting that I invited this in. My body feeling fragile, like glass that had just been through the hand blown process, I make it through the hug without breaking into pieces. I step back and we exchange smiles.
Tom, speaks up, noticing the awkwardness that I’m feeling, and welcomes them into our home. We had dinner already prepared. As they got settled, Tom and I finished setting the table.
I’ve never been in this situation before in my home. It is a bit more uncomfortable than I believed it would be. Thankfully, Tom rarely meets a stranger so the conversation took off. Ralph has many questions about our marriage, our children, how we came to live in Kentucky. He tells me, “You know I never forgot about you.”, “You were on my mind all the time.”. He tells stories, we tell stories and we laugh. Jackie says, “We were so glad when we pulled in the driveway and your home was a simple country home”, “we knew then we would love it here”.
We sat and chatted at the dinner table for a while until we found ourselves with nothing left to say. I got up from the table to clean up and put away our leftovers and realized that Tom and Jackie had gone outside, leaving Ralph and I alone. He said, “Come in here and let’s talk” pointing to the living room. As I sit down, he begins to talk about his life growing up, a bit about his marriage to mom, his marriage to his other wife, the mother of his other children, and how sorry he was that he waited so long to contact me. As he was talking I realized I don’t remember as much as he does.There were phone calls and pictures swapped that I don’t have any memory of.
I believe now that I have lost some of my memory of my childhood and early adult life. Trauma can do that. Losing my father and other things have proven to be a culprit for my memory loss.
We sat for a while with him sharing with me and I can’t even tell you how many times during our conversation that he said, “I am so sorry”. Until he asked me, “Do you have any questions you need to ask?”. I responded quite frankly, “No, honestly, I haven’t given you a second thought in a while”. I’m sure hearing that broke his heart but it is true. And then I assured him that if I had any questions, I would ask.
We are both yawning about now so bed is calling our names.
We woke the next morning to my husband cooking breakfast for us before he leaves for work. The smell of bacon permeates the rooms with biscuits in the oven and eggs in the frying pan. Ralph and Jackie come in from the room that I usually sleep. Somehow I had crawled into the bed last night and my mind shut down to rest from the flood of new and somewhat confusing information I took in the night before. A realization now that this is really happening.
Tom heads off to work and it’s up to me to entertain these strangers. A little less strangers from the day before but yet still strangers. We decide to hop in the car, well hop may not be the right word as I look at this man, who is my father, pulling a tank behind him and making sure he had enough oxygen to last him for the day.
Pulmonary Fibrosis is what he has. I didn’t know what that was several months prior to today but now I do. As I look it up on the internet to see what the medical prognosis is. Ralph shares with me, “I probably only have 2 more years left”. I tell him, “You have more to live for now”.
We decide to go sightseeing today to the Red River Gorge. “There are overlooks to see and it’s just simply beautiful”, is what I tell them. We enter the gorge area and arrive at the first photo opportunity spot. We get out and take a drink of clear mountain water that is rigged with pcv pipe coming out of the mountain side. “Fresh cold, clear water, there is nothing better”, I say and Ralph agrees. “Just a short walk ahead is the opening to a tunnel that had been hand dug through the mountain back in 1911 for the purpose of locomotives to transport lumber”, I tell them. “Another photo op”, I say!
As we drive through the winding road, seeing large cliffs and huge trees shimmering with a few leaves still hanging on the branches and the sun shining through, we chat. “Here is an overlook that I believe we can get to easily”, I say. We park and get out to look over a large valley. Some fall color still is showing itself to us. Jackie says, “Give me your camera, we need a picture of just the two of you”. So we did as we were instructed and stood close and smiled. With a little chill in the air, we headed back to the car.
As we started our return trip home, Ralph is napping. Another realization for me that he is not well. Feels strange for me to see this frail man sitting in the seat next to me. Thoughts that I can’t say aloud are running through my head again, “how am I supposed to feel about this man?”
We return home after an outing and lunch. It is a beautiful late fall / early winter afternoon with the sun shining and a slight breeze making its way through our covered back porch. We sit and chat a bit more. Seems like a lot of chatting and I remind myself that it’s been 50 years. There is a lot to explore and learn about each other. We talk about his other children, my half siblings, for a while. We talk about how his wife died and how he found Jackie. And ofcourse, Ralph tells me again, “I’m so sorry I didn’t do this sooner”.
Tonight will be the night he and Jackie meet some of the most precious people in my life, two of our grandchildren and one of our daughter in laws. Our son is out of town working so his introduction will have to wait.
We had already decided that we would only introduce them to the children (5 and 2 years old) as friends of Lollie and Pops. Most people love kids and get a glow about them when they interact but this was different. As they interacted with my grandchildren, there was something more than just the “love of kids” going on in the hearts of Ralph and Jackie. Particularly Ralph. He was now looking, holding and hugging his first great grandchildren. A dream that he never dreamed. He was at peace within his soul and living life in a way that he hadn’t before. As I sit and watch, I remember my initial thoughts from back a few months ago, “I don’t know that I need to have a relationship with this man but if all it does is help a old dying man let go of his regrets and live what time he has left, happy, then I can do that”. It gives me a peace that I didn’t expect or know I needed.
Morning was coming soon and life would begin again outside of our new season. So on to bed for rest to prepare for work and a long trip home for Ralph and Jackie.
Alarm wakes me, telling me it’s time to get ready for work and say goodbye to these new friends that I called strangers just a couple days ago. We all are standing in our small kitchen, knowing what is coming and it’s awkward. The smell of sausage frying in the air as my husband is preparing a breakfast sandwich for our new friends to eat on the road. Ralph, dad, is not wanting to leave. They ask to take a picture of us together this morning, bed head and all. All of us in our pajamas and tired eyes.
With Ralph’s illness, he is more aware of time and wanting to make sure that if this is the last time we are together, we need to capture it.
Sandwiches in hand, we all head out the door for our last but hopefully not our final goodbyes. They are all loaded up and ready to leave.
Ralph boldly says, “I love you” and it timidly comes from my lips as well. We hug and say “Be safe”, then they pull away.
The door to a new season of life has opened. I wasn’t sure if it would stay open or if as the winter season changed to spring, I questioned, “Would this new season of life’s door stay open?”
Have you ever wrestled with a question that you didn’t know the answer to? I would love to walk through finding answers to your questions. For your free coaching session and to start working with me contact me at rhondagouldonline.com/contact-for-free-initial-session/.
Written Dec 2021