I’ve received many things over the years from my father-in-law, his kindness, sense of humor, respect, love, charm, and joy in his granddaughters among them. I have seen these in his eyes and I swear the depth grew deeper as the years passed.
Writing today, I’m finding that these things are hard to represent in a blog post intended to honor my relationship with him and the depth of his loss in my life. Besides, I’m pretty sure words don’t exist that would put the feelings in print. Maybe it’s more a man thing, and maybe the best poets have figured it out. I’m not much of a poet and hiding behind the “man shield” has never been my thing. Still, for me at least, some things I best experience wordlessly, not necessarily silently but meditatively. As connected and dependent as we all are, these things simply belong to me alone. Such has been my relationship with Dwight, my father-in-law, who peacefully passed from his body early Saturday morning.
I’ve been thinking about this since saying goodbye to him on Friday night. He was unconscious in what became his deathbed. I had a strong desire to shake his hand before leaving, what had been our tradition while the many women and girls around us shared a bisous (kisses on each cheek). Michele, Melinda and Brenda were getting ready to go, and the feeling in the room was this very well could be the last time any of us would see him alive (it was). But Dwight’s hands were under the covers and I didn’t want to disturb him. Besides, I had shaken his hand on Thursday and he had recognized me in that moment. Did I need to do it again? Was I taking time away from his wife and daughters? I leaned in and said the two words that had been resonating in my mind for days, “Thank you.”
Words are a fascinating thing to experience at times like these. I suppose we all struggle to express ourselves – to the one dying, to ourselves, to the grieving family. What do we have but words to say? As you’d expect, Michele and the rest of us are receiving an outpouring of support and warmth from extended family and friends. It is supremely thoughtful and meaningful, and much of it comes in the form of words.
Of the words I’ve had the privilege of reading, the most touching to me have been coming in French from our friends in France, people we call our French family. To best understand them, I’ve put them in Google’s language translator. I’m not entirely sure what makes them so touching, if it’s the somewhat awkward nature of the translations, or if it has to do with how messages of condolence are shared in France. Maybe I’m accustomed to how condolence sounds in native English and these translations give a fresh spin. Maybe it has to do with how much my connection to France and our French family means to me. Maybe it doesn’t really matter.
The first French message came from Joël Barron, father to Frédérique and Annabelle, Dwight’s French daughters and his best French friend. Here is how Google translated it:
It is with emotion and sadness to see a friend like Dwight disappear. Annabelle, Frédérique, and I associate ourselves with your pain and this passage to beyond. I ask you to convey to Michele all my support in this event. Dwight and Michele and my wife Monique (in heaven) were great friends of heart … Parents with great values, who have passed on many things to my family whether in the joys and sorrows of life. Life goes on supporting each other, Dwight does not suffer anymore, we will not forget it … I renew all my friendship to Michele and all your family. My sincere condolences.
The second came from Isabelle Boudeau and was signed by her father Michel and her sister Brigitte. These are the sisters and father of my good friend, Laurent, who happens to be Frédérique’s husband and who also spent significant time with Dwight over the years:
It was with great sadness that we learned of Dwight’s death. We keep an excellent memory of him and we think very strongly of you and Michèle and all your family. The disappearance, the separation from a loved one, is difficult to accept, to live. You must keep in mind all that he has transmitted to you, his joy of life, his good mood, his sense of relationships …. and learn to communicate differently with him. We offer you our most sincere and heartfelt condolences. We kiss you, all 3.
Indeed, it is my task now to learn to communicate differently with Dwight. I won’t have his actual hand to shake anymore. And while this makes me profoundly sad, doing so successfully is what will keep Dwight present in my life.