May 20, 2009

Saying Good-bye.

There's the family we're born with, and then there's the family we choose.

The family to whom I'm connected by shared genetics is huge. I joke about having married my husband because his family never settled out this way until he was a teen, so there's no chance we're related.

The family I adopted as my second family back when I was a child is smaller, at least the bit I chose to think of as my own. As I mentioned yesterday morning, Brother and I stayed with a babysitter from the time I was six-weeks-old until Mom and Dad decided I could handle taking care, not only of myself, but my little brother as well. The lady who kept us during the weekdays was the mother of Mama's best friend growing up.

Clarice and her family were a huge influence on us. We thought of her and her husband like a second set of parents. Her daughters were like big sisters. (The eldest even demanded to meet Hubby when we first started dating, so she could deign whether or not to give her blessing.) Her mother and grandmother treated us like their own grandchildren.

I went to say good-bye to my "second Dad" yesterday. Clarice's husband, Charles, passed away early Sunday morning after loosing his battle with cancer.

I have such strong memories of Charles, few and far between and muted as they are after so many years. I remember hearing him come in from work on the days Mama was late getting home herself. He'd come in and say hello before heading out to do a chore or two in the barn or to tend the cattle while Clarice finished up dinner. Little things like seeing his glasses sitting on the table by "his" chair. And his patience, sitting with us and teaching us to play a card game when Brother and I were both sick with chicken pox. Brother was just barely old enough to hold the cards without smooshing them, and I can't remember why Charles was home on a weekday. I remember him smiling and laughing with us that day though. Yet, I barely recognized him.

Even when I saw him after I'd grown, I always have this image of Charles as a strong, healthy man to whom I had to look up to see his eyes. (I am only 5'5" after all!) I didn't hear about him being ill until he'd already been sent home under hospice care to set his affairs in order at home, and though I kept meaning to go and visit, my follow through sucked. In truth, I was scared. Who cares about the rain? We would have left before we tired him too much. I was just scared to see this man I'd always seen as so strong look weak and frail, and I'm ashamed.

I'm ashamed, and I feel so guilty. And I never got to see him again. Never got to tell him how proud I was to know him.

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