My father-in-law passed away tonight, this day after Christmas. My husband waited for five days for space on a flight that would get him to his father’s bedside.
The last time I saw him was six months ago when I went down for my daughter’s college graduation. He was so pleased we’d made the drive over. Getting to Salmon, Idaho is all about the long way through Missoula, into the mountains and down a windy road to home. In summer I recognized the treachery involved in their many visits to see us, especially in winter. It was always worth it for them to come, whether it was for a day or three, and in taking the long way around I truly appreciated how much we meant to them.
My husband is a stoic man, with a dry humor and intelligent wit. His inate talent when it comes to diesel engines was passed down from his father who, in his later years, taught such mechanics at a college. As a younger man he traveled the world with Ratheon, for whom his skills were put to work in the middle east. As young men, my husband and his brothers explored Saudi Arabia, Egypt and such exotic locales as we may not be tempted to visit in present times.
When I visited in June, Chuck took us to visit a friend who lived above the cemetary. He has a field full of old iron equipment – drill rigs, wagons, engines, ancient pickup trucks and pumps, and a shop filled with tools and working things that make men drool. For two full hours, Chuck trailed behind us, politely allowing me to gawk at the fun stuff here at this place he called second home. He and my daughter had given up following us around, and had retired to the swing on the porch to wait in the shade. Stories and laughter greeted our approach, and I appreciate the grace he extended me for keeping him from his comfortable recliner at home. I knew he was in pain, but he wanted me to spend time with this friend who was so important to him. Upon leaving, we went to the local shop where he spent his mornings drinking coffee and abusing the help. I could tell the men respected him, and the office gal knew exactly how to rib him. He proudly introduced the young guys to my cut-off clad, long-legged daughter, and I could tell he knew exactly what kind of response that would elicit, chuckling with satisfaction.
I called him a couple of weeks ago and we bullshitted as usual, and then he got serious. He told me he wished he could have met my dad because he was sure they would have a lot to talk about. My father spent years in the middle east and Africa and Iceland and all kinds of places around the globe, and the two of them were as alike as can be. He regretted there were so many miles between two cups of coffee and conversation. He told me he wasn’t feeling too well, and reminded me none of us would get out alive and that he knew his time wasn’t too far off. I agreed we all might appreciate life more if we knew when our time would be up, and he chuckled. The last time I talked to him was when he entered the hospital the Friday before Christmas. I told him his son would be there Christmas Day and, if he’d hang on, he’d get to see his hairy face. He said he would.
Tonight my husband called, broken and sad, and grateful for being there. For twenty-four hours he visited with his father and put his arms around his mother, each of them strengthening the other. Tonight, exhaustion will be salved with fits of sleep, weeping, the comfort of familiar arms holding it all together. I am 2500 miles away, thankful for one seat on a Christmas Day flight that put a son exactly where his father wanted him to be.