I’m in shock. My father in law passed away just a short 3 weeks ago…just a few short weeks shy of his 61st wedding anniversary. He had been in the hospital having some tests done to see what was causing him to pass out. They discovered 4 blockages and were talking about doing surgery. NEVER did anyone think this could happen. Of course it was the elephant in the room when he was in the hospital but damn, this could never happen to Edward. So what he was 82, had diabetes, sleep apnea and was over weight. He was a tall, big, strong man. He’d be fine, right? He couldn’t die. Yet he did and I cannot wrap my head around it.
When I think about the first time I met Edward, I smile. It was 1997 and it was Mother’s Day weekend. Carol and I had only been dating a month and she invited me to her parent’s house for their Mother’s Day gathering. It took a lot for me to feel awkward but I did that day. I felt Mother’s Day was a family thing and I wasn’t family. I was really nervous about going but Carol insisted.
That Mother’s Day was the first time I met Carol’s daughter, parents, siblings, niece and nephews. Everyone was very nice and so polite. Their world of politeness seemed so foreign to me. I know that sounds crazy but my background was vastly different. My family had no problem interrupting a conversation, talking over someone and voicing their opinion right then and there which usually included insulting the family member being spoken to. If you were going to make it in my family you had to have a thick skin and learn how to play with the big boys. It was just a way of life. And so, needless to say I know my personality was a bit (lets say) strong for their tastes. At that time I had no filter. What I felt is what I said. And if someone said something I felt was wrong, I let them know it. Listen, I admit it. I was rough around the edges and I didn’t know when to back down. And so, that day when I met each of Carol’s family members one by one, they one by one walked away from me until I found myself alone in the living room… where Edward sat also isolated from everyone else. I had already known from Carol that her dad wasn’t the sociable kind. Not only was he not so sociable BUT he was frustrating to have a conversation with…hmmm…sound familiar? That was no coincidence I ended up alone in the living room with her dad. Bashert, I say. It was funny because neither of us even cared why we ended up alone. After all, the problem was everyone else; NOT us.
While I sat on the couch in the living room Edward was in his recliner chair reading a book… he had all of his accoutrements (beverage, snacks, assortment of reading materials, writing utensils, crossword puzzles and TV clicker) on the side table next to him so he wouldn’t even have to get up (anytime soon) and be forced to be sociable with everyone in the kitchen. And so there I sat… quietly. After a good 10 minutes Edward peaked over his book and looked at me. He smiled and then went back to reading. Another 5 minutes went by and he peaked over his book again. I suppose my presence was a bit menacing so after the second time he peaked over his book he finally spoke to me. He smiled again and then asked me my name. I suppose at this point he felt obligated to talk to me and so he continued by asking me how I met Carol. I told him we had a painting class together at college. Now, it probably would have sufficed to have stopped there but of course I didn’t. I continued to tell him how much I hated painting and because of that I wanted someone to paint my paintings for me. I told him I thought Carol would be the perfect person. Folks, I can still see the surprised look on Edwards face. He was stunned…not about my bluntness but by what I was saying. No way in hell would his daughter be caught cheating. He knew he had taught her better and he knew she would never do it.
With a half cocked smile (as if to say this girl is crazy) Edward said in his classic way, “OK. That’s interesting. And why do you think Carol would have cheated for you?” In my own selfish cocky way I answered, “I just had a feeling.” Edward clearly was not happy with what I was saying. Not that he told me so but it was evident in the questions he asked and his facial expressions. The interesting thing was he knew his daughter and he knew she did not do my paintings for me. It didn’t take long before Edward couldn’t take me anymore. While sitting in his chair he hollered into the kitchen where his wife, Carolyn, was. He asked her when lunch was going to be ready. When Carolyn told him it was ready, he politely excused himself leaving me by myself in the living room. Now folks, I bet you’re thinking that was the beginning of the end of that relationship. You’d be wrong, though. Believe it or not that day was the start of a beautiful relationship between one tough punk kid (that be me) and one tough old man (that be Edward).
Time and time again during our visits to Carol’s parent’s house I found myself sitting in the living room with Edward while everyone else was in other parts of the house. Edward was always in his chair and always reading his book. But, the more often I came over the more quickly he’d stop reading to engage in a conversation. The conversations were usually political in nature AND were of topics we were polar opposites in philosophy. He knew how to push my buttons and I knew how to push his. Oh, what I’d give to go back to those days to be a fly on the wall.
As the years passed I began to change. I slowly learned how to communicate in a manner that was more tolerable (lets say). I began enjoying socializing with Carol’s family and being a part of the their conversations. And so, my time in the living room with Edward lessened. Over the last 5 years or so mine and Edwards conversations changed. He would tell me about his upbringing and about some of his hardships. It was during this time we both learned how similar our upbringings were. We were both abandoned by our parents and really had no supportive family to speak of. As a result we were both bitter in our own ways. For the first time we shared our stories and laughed about our similarities (and the differences). Our ages were vast but our lives were familiar to the both of us. What I loved was during this time he’d often tell me how proud of Carol (his daughter) he was. Her illness scared the hell out of him and he worried she’d never recover. He was not one to talk about her illness but I could often get him to talk about it. It made me feel good that he recognized that even though I was a hard shell to crack, I was somehow able to help his daughter and she was able to do the same for me. For whatever reason our relationship worked and both Carol and I were better people because of it. Edward saw that (in time) and accepted me into the family. Even though he had trouble calling me his daughter’s partner, he did introduce me to others as his daughter. He even was able to let go of his hard ways and place me on the Breland family tree. Folks, I cried the day he did. It was the most special gift Edward could have ever given me. Not simply because he did it. It was because I knew what it took for Edward to do it. He was a traditional man who felt marriage was between a man and a women. AND more so he felt strongly not to recognize any relationship that the government did not recognize. And yet, folks, he did it. He was able to see my love for his daughter as well as my love for her family. I took their last name and we gave it to our son. He saw that our relationship was no different than that of his and his wife. That meant the world to me. My biggest regret was that I never thanked him and I never let him know how much that meant to me. I may have changed in many ways over the years but my ability to thank Edward was still so very hard. I do hope Edward knew what it meant to me.
Over the last two years Edward and I didn’t have as many conversations…more often than not he would be asleep when we visited. And if he woke up while we were there it was only enough time for him to mosey into the kitchen to get a drink, say a quick hello and then disappear again for another nap. BUT even during those times we’d sneak in a discussion here and there. By this time though they changed…in a good way. We no longer had this need to prove our points or to push each other’s buttons. We could disagree and be alright with it. We understood our views came from our different upbringings and that was OK. It just didn’t matter anymore to have to be right. OK, so I’m sure it helped I was no longer that smart ass kid and I was able to let go. I think too it was because we had gained a love and appreciation for each other and a level of respect for what we each had experienced in our lives. Or maybe we were simply tired of those intense conversations. Which ever they were a far cry from that first discussions we had. To think that only took 17 years to happen… a testament to both of our strong personalities. We don’t give up so easily but I’m glad we did.
Listen, through out those seventeen years Edward and I had many heated and interesting conversations. Man, did Edward know how to press my buttons and I knew how to press his. It almost felt like an intense game of chess. He’d make a move and then I would. He’d make a point that I couldn’t respond, he earned a check mate. And visa versa. Both of us never shied away from giving our opinion as well as telling the other how mistaken the other one was. However neither of us ever lost our temper nor did we hold it against each other (at least publicly). OK, so we may have gotten mad and we may have even given each of our spouses a mouth full later, but that never stopped us from engaging into another debate. It truly was amazing how alike we were.
I grew to love and respect Edward for who he was. There was never a doubt he loved his wife and would go to great lengths for her. No doubt he loved his children even though he may not have known the best way to show it. And there’s no doubt he loved his grandkids even though he had a hard time relating to them. AND even though Edward and I had many arguments I really did grow to love that man as a father…all of his warts and all. After all he did the same for me. Now, isn’t that what family is truly about? Unconditional love…which is what he gave to our son. No, Judah was not his blood relative but he saw him no different than his other grandchildren. My heart melted every time our son called him Papa (and Gram). Something else I wish I had thanked him for.
Damn! I’m going to miss that man. His tall, large stature…the way he’d waddle into the kitchen after a nap to get a cup of iced tea which he’d pour into a styrofoam cup (he had brought home from a restaurant a few weeks prior). I’m going to miss his endless talking about the family tree and about his relatives. I’m going to miss how he’d smile when he would talk to Judah about something philosophical. I’m going to miss bringing over our dachshund, Moses, who Edward would hold in his lap and let lick all over his face. The belly laugh he’d give while Moses licked him was priceless. I’m going to miss how Edward would holler for Carolyn… he’d often leave the “lyn” off and Carol would answer instead. Edward would then deny it up and down when Carol would tell him he said her name. I’m going to miss his smiles and laugh when he’d talk to Judah. AND most of all I am going to miss our long winded conversations that often got our feathers raised.
I had a dream after Edward died where he and I were talking. I couldn’t believe how much he had changed. Edward was happier than he had been in years. He told me he no longer felt depressed and weighed down. In my dream he was laughing, smiling and telling jokes. He wanted me to tell Carolyn (his wife) how much he loved her and that he will never leave her side. He wanted me to tell her that he is in a good place and how he is finally free (from the restraints of his body). He wanted her to know how sorry he was for not being able to be the husband she wanted and needed him to be. He knows he didn’t support and love her as he should have but he didn’t know how. That was a great regret of his. BUT, he wanted her to remember those happy times. Those times they’d laugh and laugh about the silliest things. Those meals Carolyn would make that were so bad and how Edward never said a word and just ate them. In particular Edward spoke about the time he fell out of the bed. I remember in my dream holding my ears and telling him that was just too personal. (I did ask Carolyn about this and she told me about a time when she was changing the sheets on her bed. She was only wearing a shirt and underwear and Edward came into the room to grab her. When he did, it startled Carolyn and she jumped. That made Edward jump and when he did he somehow got his foot caught in the sheets (that were hanging down on the floor) and he fell down breaking his toe.)
Listen, real or not it doesn’t matter. What matters is it was comforting to have this dream. As much as I know many of us will miss him (warts and all) I do feel comforted he’s in a place where he is free and so so happy. I also feel strongly his spirit will live on in each of our memories.
You Edward, we love you and miss you.