A manila folder filled with handwritten thank you notes, from a elementary class that Mark took seining on Lake Arrowhead. Hand-drawn pictures from his sons, held on to the side of a filing cabinet with magnets of fish and German-shorthaired pointers. Textbooks. Field Guides. Publications with several of his papers inside, from places like Pittsburgh, Chattanooga, San Francisco, Baltimore, Davenport IA. A one-cup coffeemaker, gathering dust. A bulletin board filled with pins, nametags, certificates, and photos. A calendar on the wall, still showing July 2011, just as he left it.
I encountered all of the above, and so much more, as I began packing Mark’s office items into boxes today. Several months ago, I’d gone & removed much of his personal belongings from his desk; I kept putting off sorting through the bookshelves and cabinets, of taking the rest of his stuff off of the office walls. Today I thought I could make it. Surely I could drive that familiar route, in a Toyota truck that could probably get there on automatic pilot, without the tears that usually accompany me. It was a cold, rainy day in Wichita Falls, and my mood was a bit dreary, too.
Surprisingly, I didn’t shed any tears while there. In some way, it seems that I have succeeded in partitioning off this part of my grief, and packing his professional items away is a duty I must complete. His two sons, now only 10 and 8, will want some of these things in the future. Right now, I do not have a clue as to what will be important to them—neither do they. So, I will throw away nothing, and at some point down the road, we will open these matching turquoise blue rolling plastic containers, and reminisce about the most wonderful father a kid could possibly have. Then we will decide what should stay and what should go.
I stayed about an hour or so, and the task will take several days to complete. Folks have offered to help me, but it’s really something I want to do alone. I enjoy running my hands over his textbooks, looking at old limnology tests from Murray State; chuckling at a desk calendar from April 1986, where on the day before my 25th birthday (4/14/86), he has in bold print: “Pop the big one to Nancy.” meaning propose to me. He planned everything, was sentimental and therefore saved everything. Ben is exactly the same way, as evidenced by his massive collection of used electronics and stuffed animals.
I miss him terribly. Always will. But I’m finding that the bitter taste of his being gone is becoming tempered with the sweet memories I am reminded of dozens of times a day. I can walk into what was his office without bursting into tears. I can lovingly pack a box full of his professional items without losing it.
But I still can’t write about it without crying.
I’ve learned to drill holes into a broken fence, and mend it with the proper screws. I’ve become great at using the weed-eater, and now I know how to fix it (yep, I broke it). I reserved a hotel room for my boys & me, using some of our hard-earned Marriott points, staying for free (Mark absolutely loved a bargain!). I finally succeeded in building and maintaining a wonderfully-warm fire in our fireplace today (it’s harder than it looks). It may not sound like much, but all of these items were a first for me, things that were taken care of by Mark.
His love and confidence in me continue, even as he watches over us from his new vantage point in heaven. I feel him urging me on, to take responsibility, to try new things. I hear him gently reminding me to be a good steward of what he and I worked so hard to accomplish financially. I imagine him smiling, all the time, just like he did while he was here on earth. And if I still want to see him, I don’t have to look far. For his sons, one who looks just like him, the other, who acts just like him, are living proof that there once was a scrawny farm kid from Kansas who lived and became everything God wanted him to be. I hope that someday someone will say the same about me.
I looked out my bedroom window this afternoon, and caught a glimpse of a pair of doves, snuggled close together on a branch of a tree. Mates already, they huddled against the cold rainy wind, and it made me smile. Life’s easier whenever you have someone by your side, on good days, as well as bad.
Without Mark physically by my side, I’m huddling with his two sons. And my God. Together, we can get through anything.