My sister and I have been collecting photos of my dad the past few days because we're making a picture memorial for the wake and funeral. It's not been easy for a couple reasons:
1. We have a rather large Italian family, and trying to find a picture of my father with every.single.family.member is like trying to capture every grain of sand on the beach. It's nearly impossible. There are just too many family members and too many years, 56 to be exact, from which to gather these images.
2. My dad was a captain of the Chicago Heights Fire Department, which means he doesn't just have a rather large Italian family, he also has a zillion brothers, because that's what firemen are to each other -- a brotherhood.
3. Shuffling through photos of our dad with my boys, with our little girl selves, with other loved ones stirs so many memories, feelings, emotions. It makes us smile, remember, sometimes giggle. But it makes us cry, weep that there won't be new pictures, new memories, new stories.
But I found an unexpected gift as we waded through the parts of our dad's life that were captured on film when my step mom gave me the memory card from the camera we bought him two Christmases ago. The moment I slipped the little card into my computer, I realized I was looking at more than just pictures of my dad -- I was seeing life through his eyes from the past ten months of his life ... the last ten months of his life.
I found photos of him and his firefighter brothers, celebrating his closest friend's retirement. Pictures of him and his sisters at his dad's 85th birthday. I found snapshots of him with his hunting buddies alongside beautiful photos of snow-capped mountains from their last trip.
I found photographs of my dad being awarded honors from the city for having coordinated a plan to save a dozen lives from a burning building.
I found pictures of a family wedding, snapped photographs of him and my step mom and the last shot I have of just him and me alone.
I found pictures of my boys, so many pictures of my boys.
Pictures from Christmas of him and my sister
and G.'s second birthday
Some uncentered, some unfocused but all with the same intent of capturing my babies' smallness, the fleeting moments, the beauty, the joy, the love.
And as I flipped through the files, I saw exactly what my dad valued most, what he loved most. I saw life through his eyes -- the highlights, what made him smile. I saw the images I imagine he may have reviewed in his final moments. And I smiled because those memories, they are beautiful and good and most importantly they were his. And now, with that simple gift of having that memory card, they become my sister's and my step mom's and my family's and my sons' and my own ... the perfect last words he never got the chance say.