It was a year ago today that my father passed away. In reflecting on the first year without “dad,” I didn’t have to look much farther than my home to feel close to him. Surrounded by artifacts that were once his, I realize that things cannot replace true presence. My heavy heart longs for a hug or a father-daughter talk over a cup of coffee in his Georgia sunroom. It is this coffee mug (pictured) that has deep significance today. A mug that was made by my mother, gone now 35 years, and enjoyed daily by my dad for decades. Drinking coffee from it today I steep in the memories as the year mark tolls.
The feeling of grief and emptiness is all too familiar – the first year is the hardest when you lose a loved one. You have to learn how to live through every day and every holiday without them – Father’s Day and his birthday were the toughest. The first and hardest year is over. As I feel the warmth of dad’s coffee cup, I’m reminded that my dad left his fingerprints everywhere – on his family, church, community, friends, volunteer work, Bosnian refugees, students, published papers and colleagues. Yes, his fingerprints are everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
After recently re-licensing my dad’s car this fall, the Georgia plates switched to Illinois, the car is now officially mine (fourth try is a charm…) A few weeks ago I decided it was time to deep clean my new set of wheels. This cleaning was not just a vacuum and wash, but an elbow grease, deep cleaning with Armor All effort from hood to trunk. Discovering a wayward grocery receipt wedged in a seat, I paused to read what was purchased at the Marietta Kroger. It was evidence of my dad’s favorite snack foods, which made me smile. Touching his empty sunglasses case and a handmade sewing kit in the glove compartment made me feel calm in a weird sort of way. I half expected dad to come out of the house and sit down next to me. Dad’s presence was palpable as I reorganized the trunk and checked out the first aid kit he always kept in each car for emergencies. He was always prepared.
Closing the trunk, I sat back in the front driver’s seat to do some detail. As the cleaner-soaked rag rubbed round the bumps of the steering wheel, I froze with an awful realization. I was rubbing off my dad’s fingerprints. Horrified, I teared up feeling like I was wiping away his presence. The finality of death hits you when you least expect it. Grief comes in waves that you cannot anticipate or control. The tears flowed uncontrollably. Staring into the rag, I wondered where fingerprints go and contemplated their power to tell stories as evidence that “I was here!” I finished cleaning the console, rugs, and dashboard then just sat in the stillness of the quiet, clean car. Sitting still was both therapy and a gift. My mind went to work reflecting on stories of fingerprints left behind. Two came to mind in a car ride that never left the garage.
Last summer our grandson, Leo visited the house and in his active and inquisitive nature pulled himself up on my dad’s antique bookshelf with glass panel fronts. Leo walked clumsily along the windows, using the bookcase to stabilize himself. Before I could snap a picture, (grandma takes a whole lot of pictures), he plopped down and crawled off. Even though I missed the photo of my grandson peering into the bookcase at his great grandpa’s antique artifacts, I discovered something that Leo left behind – his tiny fingerprints on the glass bookshelf. Juxtaposed in front of my dad’s treasures, the evidence that life goes on was tangible. Our fingerprints are both unique and quietly remark, “I was here.”
The other day on an outdoor walk, my route meandered through the Batavia Riverwalk, a linear park along the Fox River that my family and our community spent eight years lovingly building. As I paced along the brick walk, memories of donating sweat equity on Saturday workdays came flooding back. I could hear the stories, see groups of volunteers, and a feel a sense of community accomplishment. Although our physical fingerprints are long gone, the Riverwalk represents the culmination of our collective hands that still stands today for the community to enjoy. Tens of thousands of fingerprints joined together to built this wonderful gathering park. And my fingerprints were there too with echoes of “I was here.”
As I finish writing this blog, I catch a glance of a computer screen laden with fingerprints. Feeling the urge to clean them off, I am struck by the thought that there are so many more things that need our fingerprints on before they are wiped away for good. And so I ask, “What is it you need to leave your fingerprints on in this world?” More importantly, “What are you doing to make that happen?” Because fingerprints don’t last forever, unless they are the kind that leave an indelible impression, just like my dad’s left on me.