Leah started preschool this year. We recently had our first parent-teacher conference and as the teacher was telling me about the things that Leah enjoys doing, I interrupted and asked, “Leah who?” The kid she was talking about was almost certainly not my kid.
I’ve had the feeling since Mike died that there was a big part of him that I never really knew. I recently met with another woman who was widowed at a young age 5 years ago and after her husband’s death, she compiled letters and stories from all the different people in his life so that her young children would know their dad. I love the idea of this, as if it fills in the blanks of what people might have seen of him that I did not.
I participated in less than half of Mike’s life. It wasn’t until after he’d died that I ever got to see his baby pictures, that I sat and talked with his friends from high school, that I got to know the close friends he’d developed on long commutes on the VRE and at work—people with whom he spent far more time during the week than he did with Leah and me.
I saw him interact with his family from time to time and with our daughter, but who was he when I wasn’t around? I have spoken with several people who have asked the question, “Did he talk about me much? What did he say about this situation?” Sometimes I can tell them, sometimes I can’t. A message on Facebook said recently, “I’d like to have heard more about our impact on Mike.” I couldn’t respond. I don’t know.
I remember him as a lovable goofball, intensely devoted to me and Leah, only slightly less devoted to the Patriots and ketchup, intensely patriotic, and I never knew anyone who loved their life more. He had a lousy singing voice but it never stopped him from singing loud and proud, he had a wonderfully strong New England accent that I always loved listening to and caused a few funny misunderstandings, he liked to write cheesy poetry, he had a memory like a steel trap and could tell you just about anything about anyone he’d ever met, down to the date and time, he liked to play practical jokes, he hated vegetables, and he had a heart of solid gold.
That’s not the person they knew at the office. It’s not the person they knew in high school. It’s not the person Leah knew, or Mike’s sisters knew, or his friends knew.
I am now collecting stories about Mike from everyone who’s willing to participate, but I feel sad that it’s all just vignettes and pieces of that beautiful human being, who was so much more than a story and who took it all with him in the end.