I wait in line at the post office until James calls me forward. He offers a restrained greeting despite our connection. He knows who I am, but he’s in work mode. All business.
I step up to the clerk’s counter that he’s stooped over. We make eye contact as his gnarled but muscular hands await a petition. A little space of warmth ignites in my belly on this hot, late July afternoon. Being here during this month, in this place, seeing James, is full of meaning. Of specialness.
I announce, “I’ve come for two things.” I wonder if one of my requests will trigger a transformation of our encounter.
First, stamps. James’ slim, dark frame twists to open a drawer, and I select the transcontinental train anniversary sheet. But I’ve only asked for stamps out of convenience. I’m really at the post to renew my box, or really, my dead parents’ box. Their address. One of my connections to them. (Go to Seeking Connection Thru Objects of the Dead to hear more about the deceased person’s possessions and attempts to feel connected to them.)
I’ve had no solidly tangible reason to keep the box in the 10 years since Mom died. My husband sometimes complains. We’re spending $80-$90 a year to keep this post office box. It fills with grocery flyers and mail from people who want to sell my dad stuff – 13 years after his death. For a while, I justified the box by allowing my parents’ utility bills to continue to come to it, but we sold the house last year.
Now I tell my husband, “This is all I have left of them.” Which isn’t true. He knows this but does not dispute my statement. I’ve got huge plastic bins full of my parents’ things in our shed. Mementoes like their bowling trophies, Dad’s orange “Mr. Rogers” sweater, and a magazine featuring Mom’s beauty paragon, Audrey Hepburn. The valuable stuff, like Dad’s journal and Mom’s true-story magazine submissions, reside in our house. Regardless, any connection to my parents is like gold to me, and I want to keep the post office box.
My parents died the month of July, three years apart. Interestingly, the annual post office box bill due comes due the same month. Box 495. It used to be my address, too, and I worked for 16 years at 495 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tenn., at The Commercial Appeal. Weird, huh?
After selecting stamps, I pull the check book from my purse to pay the box fee.
James lowers his head. Seems like we just renewed this a few months ago, he says, and I agree. Time goes by so quickly. He tells me he was speaking to a co-worker about it, about that phantom box – my words – and I realize that each time I renew this box, it’s a grief trigger for James. I am not the only one who misses my dad. His friend, James, does, too.
Dad and James worked together and this post office, its lobby and counter and customer space still unaltered after all these years. James was a clerk, and Dad was a rural mail carrier who played harmless pranks on co-workers and cracked jokes too lame not to laugh at. And he welcomed reciprocation. He got it, and he loved it. (Go to When We Wished We’d Said More to read about his post office days, related stuff I found at his house after his death, and how it related to my grief journey.)
James still laughs at the memories of the fun they had. I love his laugh. I love that he thinks of Dad. I love that he speaks of Dad.
Another friend of Dad’s and of Mom’s is Julia. She, too, was a clerk at the post office, but she also knew my mom, and Dad and I went to church with Julia. I don’t see her often except in Facebook photos that feature her fiery hair and wide, beautiful smile.
Every time I post a memorial to my parents, Julia comments. She calls Dad and Mom dear friends. She loved them. She misses them. It hurts a little because I hurt for her, but even more, it makes me smile. My parents touched many lives. They aren’t forgotten.
From time to time, I also visit one of their other friends, Mrs. German. We met her when I was almost 7 years old. To meet us, she walked from her home across the street to our spot outside the house we were moving into, on the day before it burned down. After the debris was shoved away, my parents put a double-wide trailer on the spot. I became best friends with Mrs. German’s daughter, a year young than me. My mother became best friends with Mrs. German, and Mr. German was “like a brother” to her. The hour my father died, they hurried to Mom’s side so quickly that they beat me to the house. And I was only 15 minutes away.
Mr. German died the year after Dad. Mrs. German and I talk about him and about my parents, especially Mom. I bring her vegetables in the summer and a gift at Christmas.
It’s quite natural for me to embrace these relationships at various levels, but as I ponder the connections, I uncover three benefits to fostering them.
Shared Grief is Transformed Grief – There’s a quote out there about friendships multiplying joys and dividing grief. Our tears may fall as a parent’s friend speaks, but there’s a happiness to those tears. I am not alone in remembering my parents nor in missing them. And that is healing medicine.
Untapped Stories & Perspectives – Our parents’ friends offer stories we’ve never heard and angles to our loved one’s life we may not have considered. A story may give us understanding about a quirk, a trait, or an event, or may be funny. As I hear them, I feel my parents are a part of the here-and-now. A part of life.
Personal & Universal Value – Our parents’ friends give us companionship, advice, their unique combination of characteristics. They enrich our lives, but the worth of a person stretches beyond the benefit we get. They possess value to our world as a human being and should be regarded with respect.
I hope this serves as an encouragement to keep your parents’ friend on the radar. Time and time again, in a tone I’d acquaint with begging, I hear people ask others to speak of their dead, to say their name. To tell a story. Even if tears come. These “father’s friends” fill that role well.
All this brings to mind a Bible verse, Proverbs 27:10a. I learned the King James translation as a child – “Thine own friend and thy father’s friend, forsake not.” The New Living Translation puts it this way: “Never abandon a friend – either yours or your father’s.”
Tell me about one of your “father’s friends” – someone who remembers your loved one and grieves with you. How have their stories or perspectives helped you process the loss?
Copyright © 2019 by Toni Lepeska. All rights reserved. www.tonilepeska.com