Your Laugh

Dear Papa Bill,

I thought about you a lot tonight. It was my first year to participate in Relay for Life since shortly after Hal was born. I lined up next to the track for the Survivor Walk and before the first survivor reached me, I was fighting back tears. You were a survivor for quite awhile but eventually cancer took you from us. I was 32. Jane was 5. Daryl was 2.

Mom moved on. She’s happy again. I think you’d be pleased to know that. It wasn’t an easy trial to pass through but she’s doing alright. She has a good man in her life. He knew you and respects your memory. Five years ago, they sold the house that we lived in all those years and moved across town.

I was pregnant with Hal and picked the move day to share that with her. It might not have been the best idea I’ve ever had. Telling her that news on such a fragile day. She burst into tears, which surprised me… until she explained why. It was you. You wouldn’t ever meet Hal. Wouldn’t hold him, smile at him, make him laugh.

That was one of the last things that you and I talked about, there in the hospital when we all knew it was the end. You wanted your grandchildren to remember you. You were pragmatic about it. You knew that Aaron’s kids and Daryl were too young.

And so it was that I found myself walking the track tonight, holding Daryl’s hand. He asked me why I was sad. I told him that I missed you and then he asked why.

“Because he was my Daddy,” I said.

“I thought Grandpa Ed was your Dad.”

“He was. And is. Papa Bill was my step-dad, but really he was my daddy too.”

“Oh.”

“Do you remember him?” I held my breath. I was pretty sure I knew the answer.

“Not really.” {long pause} “Wait. Didn’t he have like a little beard? And glasses! I remember his glasses.”

Maybe he just remembers you from pictures or maybe he really remembers you, but I’ll take the comfort he threw my way tonight.

Later on, I was walking the Luminaria Walk with Jane. We walked hand-in-hand as I thought about you. And Aunt Barbara. And the kids’ godmother. And other people. But mostly you.

I thought about how we were so close when I was little and how we had grown apart when I married. I thought about how you weren’t perfect, how I had struggled with that once I was old enough to see it. I thought about how much you loved me and Aaron and mom. I remembered when I scratched my initials and yours in the wallpaper of the bathroom with a plus sign in between and “= love 4ever” after it. And then I began to sob.

Jane wrapped her arm around me and we continued to walk in a silent hug. I was grateful for the dark that hid my tears but even more grateful for the beautiful, wonderful girl walking beside me. I battled inside about whether to ask her the same question I asked Daryl. I was scared to hear the response.

You see, when we talked that last time, you knew Daryl wouldn’t remember you. It hurt, I could tell, but you accepted it. It was vitally important to you, however, that Jane remember. You were confident that she was old enough. Your greatest fear was that she wouldn’t. You didn’t want to be forgotten.

She remembered you intensely for a very long time. She’d burst into tears at random moments and tell us that she missed her Papa Bill. For a couple of years, she was very sensitive about sad events. She cried watching Because of Winn-Dixie because it reminded her of losing you. Now, everyone cries at the end of Old Yeller, but when she cried, she was thinking of you.

Most everyone moves on, given enough time…especially if they are young, and eventually she did too. I can still hear her little preschool voice saying “Papa Bill” – she said “Bill” more like “Bea-ul”. But now, her life is full of many things. I didn’t know if she remembered you or not.

So I kept warring with myself on whether to ask her. To know that she did would warm my heart. To know that she didn’t would break it.

She let go of my shoulders and took my hand, mumbling an apology about it being too hot. I tentatively asked her if she remembered you.

“Barely,” she responded, with a careful look at my face. “I remember what he looked like. And I remember his laugh.”

She remembers your laugh. I think that if she was destined to remember only one thing, that was the best thing to remember. She remembers your laugh and I hope that’s enough. I love you and miss you.

Your daughter,