What We Keep With Us

The epitome of the cool guy in denim jeans and a black leather jacket stares at me from the photo in my hand, his thick dark hair just touching the top of his ears. This was one of several pictures of Bill that one of his brothers gave me a year-and-a-half ago. His shirt is open at the collar (even then a button-down) with his head cocked to one side in a relaxed sort of way, giving him a slightly disheveled look. The clothing struck me as “not very Bill,” though, and it took a while to determine whether it was, in fact, Bill’s son. The Bill I know is intense, doesn’t wear his hair “ that long” (at least not now), decries the wearing of jeans, and owns a leather jacket he almost never wears. Young Bill is, was, super easy-going. If anyone could “go with the flow,” young Bill was that man.

I was only able to make a positive ID by locating the Bill in my hand geographically – when he was on summer break from William & Mary working at an archeological dig in Montana. The tent and landscape behind him confirmed it – and the fact that young Bill didn’t even exist back then. But they could have passed for twins.

Young Bill, only 45, died unexpectedly five years ago today, May 9th. It was a Sunday, Mother’s Day.

There is so much to say – and really nothing one can say except that he is greatly missed. He is remembered. And loved so much.

The weight of moments he will never have, the milestones his daughters, Stephanie and Megan, will face without him, the moments he might have had that will never be filled, will never expand, will fail to become.

But each of us carries the Bill that was within us, the version we hold in a special corner of our hearts. He was loving, generous, kind, and forgiving. A good man who loved his family and cared about others. That Bill will always be young. Always remembered. Missed. Loved.

As I go through the photo album, there’s Bill with his teenage son, and I marvel at the resemblance. Young Bill looked “cool,” like his father did at that age, though his hair at the time was longer and curly and his father’s nowhere near his ears by this time. Losing a child, no matter how old that child is, has to be the worst thing that can ever happen to a parent. Parents are supposed to go first; that’s the natural order of things. Then the parent lives on in his/her child – in manner, in look, and in so many other ways. And young Bill will live on in Stephanie and Megan in ways they can’t foresee right now.

The proverbial torch will not be passed from father to son in this case, but neither will it be extinguished. We still have his children to nurture, to love, to stand beside as they achieve one milestone after another. We will stand in for, if not beside, their father when they graduate, marry, have children of their own.

And when we do, we will not forget the son and father whose absence will always leave an ache in our hearts – as long as we remember him.

We will not forget you, Bill. Not ever.

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