It seems fitting that today, on the occasion of my Dad’s 84th birthday, that I revisit the amazing experience my family and I shared four years ago when we gathered together to mark Dad’s 80th birthday. Time always marches on, and we tend to let important events slip into the recesses of memory … until something happens to trigger then. I think that is why I have done so much writing in the past 12 years. Once you write something down, you can let it take a back seat to every day life. But, on those occasions when you want to bring back the memories, all you need do is look back on what was written and the feelings come rushing back.
GIFT FOR GRANDPA
I was excited as I awoke early that Sunday morning. Today all of my plans and preparations would come full circle. In a short while we would begin to celebrate my Dad’s 80th birthday. Dad doesn’t like a lot of fuss, but he good-naturedly went along with all of our plans.
I had managed to get his birthday celebration on our local 10 pm news. I had slept right through it, but many people let Dad know that they had seen it. A picture of Dad was in today’s paper announcing his milestone birthday. And there were flowers on the altar at church …. all in honor of Dad.
Our family would gather at a restaurant later in the day to celebrate Dad and honor the role he plays in so many lives. I had hoped to secure a private room at the restaurant, but when I checked early in the week, nothing was available. I was disappointed, but I knew the party would still be the grand celebration I wanted it to be.
We arrived at the restaurant and followed the hostess to our table. Much to my surprise and amazement we had somehow managed to get our own private room after all. We were free to talk and laugh and carry on without disturbing anyone. Two of my favorite cousins – Dawn and Beth, were also joining us. They loved my Dad and were very close to him.
As we finished our meal with an extravagant chocolate dessert we all raised our glasses and toasted Dad. He smiled from ear to ear and got a little teary as he told us how proud he was of his family and how much he loved us.
Beth worked for a photographer and she busily snapped photos throughout our time at the restaurant. As we got ready to leave, we all stood proudly around Dad and took a family photo — something we had not done for a very long time.
Despite the happiness of the day, I couldn’t help but be sad. If only Elizabeth were here I thought to myself – then this day would be perfect. Our 20-year old Elizabeth, our first-born daughter and granddaughter, had died in a fire while attending college in 2003. Even though almost nine years had passed there would always be an empty chair at our family table that no one but Elizabeth could fill. And, it was especially difficult today when we were celebrating such a happy occasion.
The next day I received an email from Beth thanking me for inviting her, and she included some of the photos she had taken. She told me she was concerned when she downloaded the photos and brought the first one up, only to see a large white spot just above my head and on my husband’s arm.
Beth was dismayed and she wondered how this could have happened – would this spot ruin all of the pictures?
As she slowly viewed each picture, she was relieved to see that the white spot was found only on that first photo of our family. As Beth stared at the photo, suddenly it dawned on her – if Elizabeth had been here she would have been standing in the exact place where that white spot had been. Could it be she wondered?
I didn’t have to wonder — I knew. What a wonderful gift Elizabeth had given to her family, especially her Grandpa. I printed off the photo and excitedly asked my Dad to stop over, “I have one last gift for you I told him.”
He came into my kitchen and gently scolded me – “Kimmie, he said, I don’t need any more birthday presents! Everything you gave me yesterday was wonderful.” “Oh, I think you’ll want this one Dad, I said, – but you’d better sit down first.”
He sat down at the table with a quizzical look on his face. I laid Beth’s email in front of him, which said:
Here are 2 pictures from yesterday, I have to correct the lighting on some of the others and then will send more. Can you BELIEVE the first one? I’m not kidding when I tell you that I have NEVER had a white spot show up like that before. Dawn was with me when I downloaded them and we were looking through them. When I first saw it I said “darn it look at that spot on there”, totally expecting it to be on a whole bunch of them….then i go to the next one and it’s gone and it didn’t show up again. Dawn and I looked at each other in disbelief and said “Liz was there too!!”
I quietly laid the photo down and Dad stared at it for a few minutes and then was overcome with emotion, as he realized the significance of the white spot. We both shed tears of joy at the thought that our beloved Elizabeth had been with us yesterday on such a special day. Love never dies, and the bond we all share with those we love is never broken …. not even by death!