I listened to the voice recording wishing I had been more persuasive.
“You know, Mom,” I crooned over the phone days earlier, “if his bride bought a plane ticket and invited him to join her, he’d fly instead of drive.”
I knew Dad would do anything for Mom, but that wasn’t her way.
“No, we’ll drive.”
It would be an adventure. They would drive during the day. They would stop every two hours. They would check in.
Dad kept his word. On the first leg of their trip from Sacramento to Eau Claire, he called from the road. They’d just had lunch. A few hours later they’d stop outside of Salt Lake City after crossing Nevada on Highway 80.
I wish I could remember more of the conversation. I’m sure I was distracted. The next day was our anniversary. I had a house to clean and food to cook.
“We’ll be there in a few days, daughter. I love you.”
Did I tell him to be safe? That I loved him, too? It was a conversation like so many others. I took it for granted we’d talk again.
The call came soon after the last of the few close friends we’d invited to join us in celebrating our 25 years of marriage had left.
“Well, hi, Mark,” my husband Lauran began. But he grew silent, listening to my brother at the other end of the line. Lauran looked at me – the concern in his eyes told me all I needed to know. “It’s your brother.”
I took the phone and sank down onto the couch. “Is it both of them?” I asked.
Our oldest, Ellie, overheard my part of the conversation and came flying down the hall.
“Oh, Mom,” she sobbed. “How are we ever going to get over this?”
“We won’t,” I replied. “We don’t have to. We just have to learn to live with it.”
“But how?” she asked.
“I don’t know yet.”
I keep the things my parents were traveling with by my nightstand: Dad’s King James Bible; Dad’s 6X9 binder that included his business cards – B.R. Mireles, Pastor Emeritus; and a small pocket-sized flip notebook that bore my mother’s handwriting, mapping out the towns and miles separating them from their intended destination.
It was a year before I could unzip the softcover case that held my mother’s Bible. I found bits of twig and dust inside its covers…leftovers from the accident.
My Dad’s Bible held scraps of paper with inspirational verses and goals for living. Lessons from beyond.
Both had underlined favorite passages. Each had a list of verses in front by topic: fear, worry, thanksgiving. As the months passed…And the nights of them being alive in my dreams faded…I took comfort in the guiding hand they provided.
I saved the three voice messages my father left before our last conversation. I can’t listen to them often, but it helps knowing they are there.
Added to them is a message home to our dog from our daughter, a missed call from our youngest informing us in disappointed tones that he was calling from the fly-bridge of the Stacy Anna near Port Heiden, Alaska, and one from my sweet husband, assuring me he’s on his way home. I have developed a new appreciation for the voice of loved ones.
It’s been three years since that July summer night. I’m not trying to get over my parents’ death. But I am learning to live with it.