As the afternoon sun poured through the sliding glass window, I Velcroed my 9-year-old body against the kitchen wall and felt its warmth drip down my tummy like hot fudge over vanilla ice cream. Closing my eyes, I prepared to daydream, but the darkness that engulfed me became overwhelming.
“Mom, what’s it like to be dead?” I probed, as she prepared dinner.
Looking over her shoulder, penciled eyebrows in a perfect arch, she giggled, “I have no idea. I’m not there yet.” Noting that this wasn’t just any ordinary childish query, she quickly added, “Our faith tells us it’s beautiful.”
“Do I have to wear white and do I really get wings?” I wondered.
Wiping her hands on her cherry-dotted apron, she came face-to-face with her only daughter and asked, “Does that sound nice?”
Confused, she pulled up a chair and gathered me into her arms. Didn’t every little girl want a snowy-colored gown and gossamer wings?
“What would you like?” she asked.
“White’s boring – I want pink. But I like the wing part.” Then, adding the real reason behind this heavy contemplation, I questioned, “What if it’s all a lie and there’s nothing there?”
Stunned, she hugged me tightly as she allowed my moment of internal combustion to finish igniting. Mopping up the tearful explosion with my sleeve, I whispered, “Will anyone remember I was here?”
Kissing me on the cheek, she comforted me with the answer. And so began a 51-year love affair with journaling.
In the early days, I wrote of playdates and toys I wanted for Christmas. Entering my teen years, my main topic for discourse was elaborate schemes to get a boy, any boy, to notice me. But as I matured into a woman, my entries became profound, rich in thought and reflection. I had fears, I had concerns, I had dreams. And I wanted them saved so that my children would truly know their mother.
Later, as I cared for my 96-year-old father, I’d read him my columns from the Town Crier. He particularly loved the ones pertaining to him. Each time I said his name out loud, his eyes lit up as if I’d just handed him a giant chocolate-chip cookie.
Like his daughter, Jack Madden had his own fears about dying. Sins needed to be reconciled. There was the daunting question of where did God stick all the people from the beginning of time (my dad hated crowds). And finally, would he be remembered? Did his life matter?
During our time together, Dad and I made several promises to each other. I’d always be a good girl, and he’d love me no matter what mischief I got into. But there’s one left for me to keep.
I’ve been told there are three stages to the dying process. The first is when the last person you know dies, the second is when you pass and the third is when no one says your name.
Reminiscing as his passing drew near, I told him I was writing a book about the two of us. It would be a father/daughter memoir of two souls who made a pact, no matter what the consequence, to always care for one another. With a look of genuine gratitude in those eyes that always sang to my heart, he pulled me close and said, “I love you, honey.”
The written word is a powerful keepsake, be it a letter or a story. All it takes is a pen, a piece of paper and some thought to make someone we love immortal. Perhaps there’s someone you want to live forever.