Whenever I remember my dad, I think of the color blue. Nearly every shirt my father ever owned was in some shade of blue. Blue stood for his beloved Kentucky Wildcats and represented his political affiliation. Blue was the color he always painted his bedroom, and the color of every car he drove until his last one. Blue was the color of the last hospital gown he wore; an impossibly beautiful robin's-egg hue that made him look like an angel the last day of his suffering. And it was the color I chose for his family to see him in for the very last time.
When he passed away, the task of choosing his burial clothes fell to me. I volunteered for it; I felt so helpless, so lost in the face of all we had been through, that I was desperate for any task that might bring meaning to an ending I had come to feel was senseless.
Just as there was no question what color I would choose, there was no question where I would go. If Dad needed anything, from a new lawnmower to a pair of boxers, he went to Sears. It rarely failed him, and it didn't fail me that day. I found a set of clothes I knew my dad would have approved of in life: a short-sleeved polo shirt in a shade that matched the clear April sky outside, and a pair of Dockers. I had never seen my father in a suit in my entire life. For that matter, I had never seen him wear a long-sleeved shirt that wasn't a sweatshirt. As I bought the clothes, I felt like things were right for the first time in months. His illness was marked by so many things that had gone wrong, but this...this was good. And it was blue.
He looked at peace in the funeral home wearing his new sky-colored shirt. When you see a loved one in a casket he so rarely looks like himself, especially after a battle with cancer. But we all agreed that my father, wearing his color and surrounded by pictures of his beloved grandchildren, looked like the Chuck that we remembered. Not the one ravaged by a cancer so aggressive that it kept him from healing from surgery and confined him to a hospital room for the last three months of his life. Not the one who fought so hard to beat cancer when it singled him out for a third time. But the one I knew: the one who loved to mow his lawn, coach college basketball from the couch, and bring stuffed animals to his toddling granddaughter. And I knew that he had finally found peace.
It was two years ago today that I lost my father. Sometimes I miss him so badly it gnaws a hole in my heart and leaves an ache I feel for days. Last month when Tubby Smith resigned as UK's basketball coach, I turned to my husband and started to say, "I need to call Dad and see what he thinks about all this," and had my mouth open before I realized that I couldn't ever call him again. I was surprised at myself; we think if we're strong we're going to be able to let go quickly. But it's easy to forget that a person who has been a part of our lives from the beginning, who has a starring role in our earliest memories, is gone. It's a jolt even now, two years later, and I suspect it will be twenty years later.
I tell my daughter about him and remind her how crazy Papaw was about her. We remember him every night in our bedtime prayer. It's a way to make him a part of our lives even though he's gone.
And on the bad days, the days when I feel his loss as acutely as if it had just happened, I close my eyes and picture a tranquil and soothing shade of blue. In the blue, I can find my dad.