“Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” Babe Ruth
I know this photograph is candid and imperfect. If I’d been focused, I might have asked my husband to put down his coffee cup and mail. I would have suggested him and my father-in-law to move two feet aside so that there wouldn’t be an obscure basketball hoop and half a truck in the shot. There are a lot of things that I could have done to make this picture, esthetically “more pleasing,” and yet … it is one of my favorites … because of the two men in it … and because of the radiant, pride-filled smiles on both of their faces.
When Matthew and I started dating – in the fresh moments of getting to know all there is to know about one another, one of the first things I noted was the way he spoke of his father. He talked about him almost reverently, and I can honestly say, that I do not ever, remember him saying anything negative about him in the past nineteen years we’ve been together. Every quirk was marked as endearing. Every obstacle or setback was spoken of with starry-eyed reflection, furthering Matthew’s adoration of a man who knew how to make the best out of a situation, or rise stronger after a fall.
My father-in-law wasn’t my husband’s dad – he was his hero, and this week he was taken from the world and finally given his proper placement in heaven … where all heroes should be. But you know what? It still leaves us shattered. Even expecting it … even knowing it was coming doesn’t soften the blow.
My father-in-law suffered from Ataxia and Multiple Systems Atrophy. He was diagnosed over ten years ago, and while he wasn’t in pain, this lethal combination of diseases slowly took away his ability to walk, to speak, and eventually, to swallow and breathe. As he slowly began to fade, a stranger might have seen a man reduced to humility and weakness … but my Matthew championed his father to the end as a glorified conqueror. He only saw the courage – the faith – the bravery. And I looked on with constant awe, at the impermeable strength of a father’s influence over his son, and a son’s desire to become just like his dad.
My father-in-law spoke in actions more than in words … in laughter, in service, and devotion. His last words were, “I love you … I love you … I love you.” And dad … we loved you too, and nothing about the distance between heaven and earth can change it. Legends are eternal that way.