15 years ago I took a spring break trip to Florida. My friend and I drove straight down, all 20+ hours in my future father-in-law’s deep blue pontiac. It wasn’t the pontiac I got engaged in, which also belonged to him, but his other pontiac. As we drove, we watched the snow turn to grass, turn to green as we got farther and farther south. We started by taking turns with the driving, switching every 3 or 4 hours. By the time we were almost there, we were taking 10 minute turns because we were so tired. We ate candy and celebrated each milestone. I especially remember the sunset in Georgia. It was beautiful and I wanted to live there forever. We arrived at my friend’s house early in the morning, and the next day, K took the pontiac and drove the rest of the way down to her Outward Bound location in the Keys. I spent the day relaxing, and the evening planning the upcoming week with my friend, S. In just shy of 3 months, I would be married! Surely this week belonged to me. I had plans of yoga and walks while S was at work, and so much fun when she got home.
Early the next morning, the phone rang and my friend brought it to me. I should remember the words, but I don’t. My fiancé’s father, Al, had died suddenly. I had to come home. That day is a blur. I know my friend’s parents helped me find a flight that didn’t cost $1000. I know that I had to leave a note for K (She was unreachable in the Keys) I left money with the note and implored K to break up the trip with a night in a hotel.
My week was gone – but I don’t remember feeling anything about that- all I knew was that I needed to be home to comfort and mourn with my fiancé and his family. Two planes later, I arrived in Philadelphia, where my father had driven my fiancé. Hugs and crying were next and then preparing for the funeral. I’m sure the time was spent in a flurry of activity. My memories continue to be a blur, and the slices come in snapshots. Arriving at the funeral home. Seeing his father in the open casket. Crying. Greeting family and friends. Comforting. Hearing talk about our upcoming wedding and the sad timing. I remember sitting shiva, and listening to stories about Al. Now those stories were something I should have been recording. People were interesting at the shiva. They either knew Al so well that their stories were almost too personal, or they were there but didn’t know him really, so their words were kind, but misplaced. Al was like nobody else I’ve ever met: unique, and in his older years, trying to be kind – which he hadn’t always been as a young father. No matter how wacky he was in life, he was and is missed greatly by his family and friends
We remembered my father-in-law at our wedding shower 2 weeks later, and my husband spoke of him during our wedding ceremony that spring. I feel lucky that I knew him, and it’s strange to think that he never was officially my father-in-law! Stranger still is that he died 15 years ago. 15. Before our wedding, before our children. Luckily his stories are passed on by my husband – and my children know their Grandpa Al through those stories.