Never Stop Playing

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Father's Day has come and gone. And while I salute it and the many great dads I know and love in my life circle, I happily breathe a weighted sigh of relief that it has passed.

Ours is a fatherless Father's Day, not only because my own father has been gone for more years than my youngest son has been running around on this planet, but because my sons' own father has been gone now for half that amount of time.

A cherished memory, Charley and his son George play a duet on the front stoop. - PHOTO BY CARRIE KIRK
  • Photo by Carrie Kirk
  • A cherished memory, Charley and his son George play a duet on the front stoop.

June is one of those months that's hard for us. And maybe more so for me because I wonder and worry about just how hard-hitting it is for my children. It is a time when commercials about half-price marked-down golf shirts make me wince. The month's buildup with its Ace Hardware flyers about great deals on grills makes our family spiral. It's a day on which rather than celebrating what we have, we remember what we lost. And we lost big time.

Charley Kirk was a big person. And if you thought I meant he was tall and built like a barge, this would please him ... but you'd be wrong. He was lucky to measure 5'8'' at the doctor's office, and his wrists were delicate but square, strong but slight.

Unlike my own, one of his wrists could be encircled with my thumb and pointer finger and have room to spare. On his type of wrist, any old watch plucked from his collection to compliment a J. Crew button-down looked great.

You might think it strange that I focus on my late husband's wrist. But as many of you who have lost a loved one know, often you find yourself remembering one very dear thing about your departed person. To take on the entirety of who and what you have lost is too crushing. Instead, for chunks of time you concentrate on one physical or personality trait for which you ache.

Charley with the his life's joys — sons William and George — Spring 2009. - PHOTO BY CARRIE KIRK
  • Photo by Carrie Kirk
  • Charley with the his life's joys — sons William and George — Spring 2009.

Perhaps you start with his love of an Ella Fitzgerald ballad. Then you would remember the way he would take his right hand and place it on top of his head where he would massage his scalp, as if willing a solution to materialize during a stressful situation.

You can miss something as complex as his talent at fixing anything broken in and around the house. You can then yearn for something as simple as hearing him rev the engine of his coveted Audi as he entered the driveway, happy to be home from work, ready to change out of that button-down and into one of his T-shirts. Ready to become Dad -- just Dad -- for the night.

Just the other day I took my oldest son to his saxophone lesson, his first since the end of school. He didn't want to go. What kid does when it's summer and he hasn't practiced in weeks? But he did, being the good kid he is. And as I sat on his teacher's couch and listened to his instructor accompany William on the piano, I remembered and focused on another aspect I miss about Charley: his artistry ... about everything.

The Kirk family bonds outside the front gate of their home.  - PHOTO BY CARRIE KIRK
  • Photo by Carrie Kirk
  • The Kirk family bonds outside the front gate of their home.

He built bookshelves, a bed, a lovely picture frame. He took telling a story or a joke to an art form. And he turned a snowed-in Sunday in January into fun for two restless boys, by trotting out retired nautical maps onto which the three of them added "X-marks-the-spot" locations for buried gold coins and lurking sea monsters.

Just weeks before Charley died, he started to play the violin again. He had played as a child and was quite good, but the lure of crazy antics with his buddies and the yearnings of young loves soon replaced practice time in his teens. In fact, during the entire time we dated and were married, I never once saw him pull out his violin and play. But at 4-years-old, our youngest was just starting violin lessons, and Charley and he would "play" together. George would scratch his strings, making his own music while Charley soon relaxed into his violin and sent his standards floating around the house.

Like most couples with two kids, we would divide and conquer at bedtime. Charley would put one son to bed while I read and sang to the other. One evening while George and I were well on our way to Night-Night Land, I could hear the violin playing on and on and on. Frustrated, I yelled, "Charley! Could you please get William to bed?" From down the hall, the violin music came to a temporary stop and Charley sheepishly replied, "I can't stop playing!"

At Charley's funeral, a violinist and pianist played Fritz Kreisler's Liebesleid. It was one of the songs Charley was playing over and over again in the handful of weeks before he died. The performing violinist came up to me after the funeral and asked if I knew the English translation of the title. She corrected my guess, saying it meant "Love's Sorrow." Of course it did.

So on this last Father's Day, I remember our artist who couldn't stop playing. The one who knew love and honored both the joy and sadness of having it in his life. And moving forward to the all the Junes that lie ahead for us, with their annual Hallmark holiday, I will do the same and try to instill that in our children -- to always remember that we, too, must never stop playing.

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