Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Ghost of my Father's Hand

If you look carefully to the left of our back door, you will see the marks of my father's hand on the wall of the house.

During a Sunday pause in the painting of the exterior of my family home, I saw my father's ghostly hand near our back door this morning. It wasn't a ghost really--just the impression of his long, thin fingers. 

During the last year of his life, my father's walking became difficult and he would hold onto the stair rail at our back door steps, then reach for a grab bar my mother had installed, and then would put his left hand against the house to steady himself--the wonderful old house supporting the wonderful old man. The marks from the oil in his hands are still there.

He had large hands with long fingers, so it is impossible to mistake these hand prints for anyone else's. When I look at them I remember that last year and the incredible force of his will as he worked at getting up and down those stairs. It was just the way he lived his life--with joy and with determination.

The marks are very faint, though when I photograph them with the HD feature on my iPhone they show up far more clearly:

The painters are off today; meanwhile everything is all taped up and in a muddle. I can't find my gardening tools, my patio chairs are in the sun instead of the shade--just minor annoyances.

But I wondered if I would mind on Monday when the painters resumed and reached this wall and painted away my father's hand. I thought about it quite awhile.

With the death of my friend's son in Afghanistan, the deaths of my parents, the death of my friend Lisa's father, the death of my former husband, the terminal illness of my beloved Aunt Ruth, death has seemed to be all around me, in recent days. "In the midst of life, we are in death," we say in our Christian services and it is heartbreakingly true.

But I have come to believe that those we love do not ever really leave us. They are with us in who we are and in everything we say and do and in the better part of ourselves they helped us realize. Even in the  lessons we learned in loving them.

The pain of losing them does gradually abate. Yet, all the love they have given us--and we them--does not diminish over time. Everything they were and all the memories we have of them are stored in our synapses--and this remains part of us forever.

My father was an engineer and a practical man. He would be proud, I think, that my sister and I are painting the house to keep the wood in good condition for the coming winter. "About time," he might growl--and Dad's grumpy growl is also something I remember.

The handprint will be gone next week and that's okay. We don't need physical remnants to remind us of those we've loved. 

I don't need a hand print on a wall to remember my father. 

He left his handprint on my heart a long, long time ago.

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