My father had been dead for three years. The funeral was held on a Friday evening in January. He had just turn 85 a week before he passed on in his sleep. It ended up raining through the entire service but everyone was there. The grave was surrounded by our church families, our friends, our relatives, my older brothers, my older sister, and my mother. We took his death hard, my mother the hardest.
“That was a lovely service,” My mother had said as we left the sight, “Who was it for dear?”
I remember the knot in my stomach, the tears burning in my eyes, and the shock at her question.
“D-Dad.” I had stammered.
Then the oddest thing had happened, she laughed.
“Your father is at work. We must get dinner ready before he comes home. He’ll be tired and hungry.”
“Mom, Dad is dead, dead.” I had said firmly, using all my energy not to let the words come out angrily.
We had gone home and prepared dinner. One of my brothers had set the table for us four and Mom had chided him for forgetting Dad’s spot. He had been just as bewildered as I had been. I had shrugged and told him set Dad’s place.
When Dad did not come home that night, I had thought for sure Mom would give it up. But she had shaken her head and said,
“Must be caught in traffic.”
It continued to be that way for weeks. And she always backed him up somehow. “Your father must have gotten a head start on his day”, “He’s probably working late”, “Perhaps he got called away unexpectedly”. My brothers flew back to their homes and my sister left for Europe where her fiance was waiting for her.
I remained in the small house with my mother. I had no where to be, no job needing my presence, no special someone to go back to. Some would call that sad, say I had so many opportunities to seek out. I had heard people whisper about how many men had wanted to date me but that I never gave them a single thought. Many folks said it was a shame I never went off to college, but they also knew I was doing well for myself with my new career as a writer. Publishers liked what I gave them, and that was good enough for me. I didn’t need some fansy degree, and I didn’t need a man. I needed family, and at the moment that was my mother.
Mom set Dad’s spot every morning, packed a lunch for him to take to work, and kept his food warm at night. Night and night again I saw her wait anxiously for him to walk through the door. When a car drove by, she would push herself out of her rocker and looked out the front window. If someone knocked, she’d be the first to open it. I tried talking to her, telling her Dad was gone, but she refused to believe it.
“Why are you so adament about your father being gone? When are you going to rein in that imagaination of yours Kaylee?” She would scold and go back to watching the roads.
After a month of this, I gave up on trying to pursuade her of it. She began to smile as little notes would appear on her bedside saying,
Sorry I wasn’t home tonight, miss you babe.
Left early Sweetheart, I’ll see you soon.
I love you Honey.
I would eat off two dishes so it would look like Dad had eaten. I took the lunches she made for him and went into town and ate them myself. For Valentine’s I bought her red roses and wrote in a card. I signed my father’s name and left them on the table. On her birthday, flowers, chocolates, and jewelry would be by her bedside. Mother would smile and laughed, saying how romatic he had become, what a great husband he was and so on. It hurt that she did not see the truth but seeing the smiles on her face, the hope in her eyes, and the new engery running through her made me push on.
After a year of this charade, it became a routine. Mother was improving emotionally and her health was picking up, but I was wearing down. Playing my father and her single, author daughter was taking all I had. I hadn’t had time to grieve, my mother was doing enough for the both of us. I visited Dad’s grave every week and left flowers, but mother never asked where I had gone. I had consulted a doctor about my mother’s condition but all they wanted was to put her on medications.
On the Friday evening in January, when a year ago I stood at my father’s fresh grave, my mother tugged on my sweater. Her eyes were solemn, glistening with unshed tears. Her hands trembled and her lips opened but no sound came out. She swollowed and pulled me close.
“Kaylee, let’s visit the grave of that fellow we watched them bury a year ago. I don’t know who he was, but I get this feeling we should pay out respects.”
As I knelt before her, my heart jerked. I did not want to take her down there, fearing it would damage her mind more, but Mom persisted and I consented. Dressing her warm, I took her hand and led her down the road, we walked passed the church, and toward the country. We came to the small cemetary and soon the grave. Mom knelt beside the grave, fingering the headstone, and smelling the flowers. Her head tilted as she read the inscription. My mother cried out and I jumped to help her up. She shook me off and grabbed the headstone. Her shoulders shook and she cried, harder than I had ever seen her do before. My mother had always been the strong one, never crying until she was at the end of her rope. I hugged my mother and sobbed along with her.
“Mama, please, tell me what’s wrong.” I whispered.
“Your daddy’s gone. Richard is gone…how long? Why? He sent those flowers, the chocolate…he came home, ate my meals, the money that paid the bills… Kaylee….how?”
I bit my lip as I held her.
“Papa’s been gone a year Mama…but you were taken care of, he sent those things from Heaven, he told an angel…and the angel told me.”