My Last Photograph

Excerpted from my personal journal on Friday, April 2, 2021

Dear Dad,

Today is Friday (Good Friday actually) and I find myself with more time than usual for today’s entry. I keep going back to this photo of you, Dad. It’s the last picture I took of you on December 29, 2020.

We were all at your house–probably one of your greatest joys in all of life. We had adapted our Roberson holiday plans due to Covid. We kept things simple. We simplified gift-giving. Me, Mere, and Ryan (and our families) each took a turn providing the group a meal to take the pressure off of Mom–something you were always sensitive to and protective of.

I helped to plan some of our time more intentionally. One, to give all of the kids a focus, and two, to get us all out of those house–spread out a bit with some opportunities for fresh air. On this night (pictured), we all divided up and did a neighborhood scavenger hunt. Thomas and Knox joined your team with Mom. Throughout our days together we had “Cousin Olympics,” and a family basketball game at The Ministry Center. All things we had never done.

Among these fun and funny memories I will always cherish the meals we adults shared around your dining room table. The conversations were lively–full of laughter, honesty, family history, and heart connection. Each meal we had a different “deep dive” question to discuss. Again–so VERY intentional and something we don’t usually do.

Our family gifted you a new Bible– one I spent time agonizing over and I included a pretty lengthy card that poured out my heart, commissioning you as the Roberson family patriarch now that Papaw had passed on. In that choice of a gift, Dad, I’d envisioned you living at LEAST another 20-30 years. How did we lose you so suddenly at 66 years old, full of life, health, and many more years to spare?

I envisioned you reading the annual Christmas story from that Bible to your great grandchildren like Papaw did. I envisioned you in your Christmas sweater, feeble, frail, hard-of-hearing as an old, old man–inching your way toward eternity one slow year after the next, one small, progressive decline after another.

A few weeks ago, Mom returned that Bible to me, and I in turn gifted it to Thomas. The passing of faith heritage in one way or another…Alas, my intention and false sense of the future was not to be. Not even close…and not by a long shot.

Dad, I look back at this photo and TWO things hit me at once:

First, how very grateful I am for that special “last” (and we didn’t even know it) Christmas together. Truly, I have reflected on those few days, now dozens of times. Event then when we were living it things felt special–almost serendipitously happy and magical. At the time I thought maybe we all just appreciated it more after such a tough 2020 full of pandemic living. In hindsight, I see that family gathering as SO MUCH MORE.

It was truly a gift of grace and mercy from God. (And the tears come quickly here in the tenderness of this realization…) GOD GAVE US THIS TIME. HE gave us this gift. He gave us all this sweet memory of our last precious Christmas with you because he knew we’d need it as a stone of remembrance. He knew we’d need it as a hook to hang our sorrows upon.

He knew we’d need to look back at this photo and have a reminder of our precious and wonderful Dad! Dad in his favorite little black hat, bundled up in his blue coat, side by side with Mom, ready to load up his grandsons, probably talking smack to the rest of the group about how we all better watch out because their team was going to win the scavenger hunt. That was you, Dad, always full of joy. Always ready to roll with the punches. Always ready to compete to win.

Second, when I see this “last” photo I have of you Dad is the CRUSHING acknowledgment that you didn’t know this would be your last Christmas. It makes me sad for us but it makes me sad for you. You didn’t know it would be the final time you’d see Thomas, Mae, Kate, or Ryan. (I’d see you briefly and hug you one last time at Aunt Linda’s funeral a few weeks after this photo was taken.)

It kind of haunts me when I consider this. I guess, not just for you, but for any of us. No one knows when his time on Earth is finished. No one knows it’s his final Christmas, his last hug, or his ultimate goodbye. I guess when I see this last photo, I wonder IF we had all known–would we have done anything differently? The truth is we will never know. Not this side of Heaven at least.

So Dad, I guess I am left with this notion now that time seems somewhat frozen in that photo frame. We didn’t know what was coming. We couldn’t have known what was coming. As always, I’ll simply end with this: I LOVE YOU, Dad! I miss you like crazy. I’m grateful for the 44 years of a life with you in it.

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