Photographs of my father

He’s ninety-six now, living in a residential care facility in B.C. I can’t call him on the phone anymore. He hears very little and struggles with dementia. My sister tells me that until she mentions me, he doesn’t speak of me. Then our father remembers the daughter two provinces away. “Oh, yeah! Kathleen! What’s she up to now?” he says, as though recalling a former friend.

My siblings and family members visit faithfully. Because of pandemic measures in place, they stand outside the window, waving and making gestures. They write large on whiteboards so he can read their greetings. They bring gifts. The nurses deliver them.

We’re all grateful Dad lives in a safe place; that his caregivers genuinely care. But at this point, it’s been a long time since any of us hugged him. “I’m so lonely, Kathleen,” he said often during our video calls, even before the pandemic. “I miss you too, Dad,” I responded. We blew kisses and gave each other air hugs over our blurry screens as my sister held the phone. I snapped a few screenshots. He would have done the same, I think, years ago.

In his younger years, Dad loved photography. Before my mother’s death, during their time of downsizing for a move to a senior’s apartment, my brother Dave digitalized every slide in their collection—many hundreds of them, taken over decades.

One unforgettable evening, he and my sister-in-law, Barb, hosted a family “movie” night.

Our parents sat still as stones, riveted to the screen, almost in disbelief, it seemed. As the years and memories flowed past, I imagined their thoughts. How could this be? Was that really us? Were those small children really the adults beside them, all grandparents now?

Dave gave thumb drives of Dad’s pictures to my sister and me. I’ve gone through them often, grateful for my brother’s gift of irreplaceable images that otherwise would be lost.

I have my own favourite snapshots of my father in hard copy. But like all children with dads, I have other images that remain locked in lifetime memory. Images not in an album, a slideshow or on a computer. Images impressed on the heart alone, most precious, some difficult.

I wish I didn’t have to remember the picture of Dad on the other side of the glass, walled in by pandemic regulations. But I’m grateful for another picture, one I see by faith alone, but one that has yet to be snapped by some eternal camera. Dad, leaping from his bed or wheelchair. Running to meet Jesus. Freed from the deterioration of the brain that makes him forget me and so much else. Emancipated from the confining glass of his care facility and the dark glass through which we all see life. Reunited with Mom and other beloveds. Lonely no more.

We don’t know when, but one day, that camera will take that shot, and our hearts will hear a divine click. Till then, we wait in faith and love. Praying for less loneliness, for good days and smiles for our beloved Dad.

How I love seeing Dad’s face, even if we can’t converse as we once did! When he sees my face, he always remembers…

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