I was sprinting up the stairs with my cell phone to snap a picture. Sean had stepped into the bathtub fully clothed, after I asked him to help me with bath time. The girls were looking at him as if he’d hung the moon (with pink and purple strings) and I wanted to capture it on film. We’ve been working so hard and my guilt about not directing the lush holiday attention we all seem to expect should come naturally and easily at the holidays but never really does, was overwhelming.
He was all lit up, his orange ball cap and navy wool sweater in stark contrast to their pearly skin, and as they dumped cups of water and I readied the phone another phone rang. He guffawed and said, “You get that, babe?” I tucked my phone in my back pocket and barreled down the stairs to grab the phone. I was halfway up the stairs again as I said, “How are you?” I knew before my feet touched the ground. I heard one last splash before the words we’d been waiting for but still doubted would come rang, “Well, Daddy Norm just died.” My heart fell and I toyed with not saying anything, but the news slipped through the cracks of my silence. The splashes stopped.
I walked up the stairs listening to her words as I watched his face. There is no where I’d have rather been or any way I would have changed my role in delivering the news, but oh how I didn’t want this to happen. His face crumpled into a look of shock and hurt and he held his hand out. The clash of two lifetimes, the one that came before our family, all the things that made him who he is, and the man that will now step into a tub fully clothed, filled the room. He was gone as quickly as the news came, shucking off his wet clothes as he took the phone.
I sank to the floor and took up where he left off, splashing the girls and then slowing the play. I watched their faces and then waited until they saw mine. “Daddy Norm died.” They looked at me, searching my face for more as they did the math of how a person they’d just seen* could be gone. They asked why and I explained that a body can grow too weak and that when that happens the spirit leaves the pain.
Sean came in to tell us he was going to be with his mom. “Why?” they asked. I saw it on his lips before he could finish, “Because her—” I stopped him, “Not that way,” I mouthed. People die. Bodies grow weak. Spirits are set free. But tonight we won’t talk of daddies dying. We won’t talk about daughters without fathers, no matter their age. I kissed him as he left.
We read stories for a long time tonight. I thought of another family with three children so many years ago. I thought about the squeals they probably cried for daddy and the comfort they took in the soft arms of their mommy. We’d found at just the other day that Daddy Norm had been an entrepreneur several times over, little snippets of a life story that, even though we’d all thought we’d heard seven times over, held more than we knew. Of course it did. I looked at the longer-by-the-minute limbs of our girls and was silenced by how such vibrant shoots of life could go on even as a life was ending.
Earlier today I wept as I plugged in the lights of a table that just the night before had been at his house. It now sits near the entrance of the store, a place he’ll never visit, but that, through the spirit he passed on to his grandson and the skills he shared during a lifetime, he will forever be a part of.
Your light can’t be dimmed Daddy Norm.