Just over a year ago my sister hosted my Mom, stepfather, and my stepfather for lunch. It was the first time I was in the room with all of those people at the same time since my Dad had died the previous January. It was a little subdued and awkward, but still nice. And at that lunch, I received a bag that presented me with what we coaches like to call an opportunity.
The bag I got was full of my Dad’s glasses, like 10 pairs of glasses. Dad’s vision was terrible. He was shot in the eye with a BB gun as a kid (so it’s not just “You’ll shoot your eye out,” it’s “Someone will shoot your eye out”). He had detached retinas as a middle-aged man. He also was suffering from some bizarre form of macular degeneration that was causing changes in his vision on a daily basis. It’s really quite a miracle of modern medicine that he could see at all. He was also an artist, so his changing vision (and the threat of it degenerating even more significantly) was particularly troubling.
In the last few years of his life Dad’s vision varied from day to day so he spent some time in the morning figuring out which pair of glasses were the right ones. All that is to say that when I say I had a bag of glasses, I mean I had a full bag of extremely strong glasses that variedy from one to the next to a great degree. We were told to see if there were readers or frames we could use in the mix (seeing as all four of us wear glasses, it was a sgood bet).
When I first got the bag, I set it aside, unable to look inside after I first opened it and smelled my Dad. A few months later I opened it again and pulled a few pairs out and broke down in my grief. A couple of months later the space where I had stowed the bag became necessary for stowing something else I didn’t want to deal with, so I pulled the bag out again.
It’s a strange thing to try to sort through, a bag of glasses. And as I looked through them (not through them, I should say at them), I could see each pair on my Dad. I could see him in the 80s and 90s. I could see him two years ago. I could see him painting. I could see him reading the newspaper, or sticking out his tongue and trying to fix something with small parts. I remembered him reading, tilting his head back to make his eyes cooperate for just a little while longer before he went to bed. I could see him SEEING. I could see him moving through the world visually. I could see him engaged and alive.
We donated most of those frames to organizations that distribute them through eye doctors that serve folks who could use a hand. Dad would have liked that. We only kept a few pairs, some strong magnifiers which we have used when we are repairing really small bits. And when we need them, I’m awfully glad to have them. And when I’m not paying attention I stick my tongue out just like he did because wiggling it helps to get those tiny screws just where they belong. I wonder if, when I’m wearing them, I see things like he did. A lot of times I think I probably already do that.
As I move from one stage of grief to the next, I find myself welcoming these moments, these strange moments of communion brought on by things as strange as glasses. Sometimes it’s a song. Other times it’s food or something I read that I know he would just love. There are so many books I wish I could share with him now; as I grow we seem to have more in common than ever before. The shock of his passing has dulled (although I still get caught by surprise every now and then). Picking up his insanely strong glasses feels like sitting down with him for a few minutes, trying him on, being together. It helps me remember and it helps me imagine that he is with me still, that we can chat about books and eat a dessert together (ice cream for him, pie for me), and that feels awfully good.