I have written this in my head at least a thousand times over the last month, a snippet here, a paragraph there, but I never got very far because, if I ever finished it, then it would be real. If I didn’t there was always hope something might change.
But come Saturday morning, July 15, 2017, my son and daughter-in-law and their three children—my grandchildren—will pack up the bulk of their worldly possessions and head to Memphis where, after a literal lifetime in Savannah, they will take up residence. My daughter-in-law will continue teaching high school English. My son will exit funeral service and enter insurance, and my grandchildren will enroll in a new school and a new day care—and live two and a half hours away instead of two and a half minutes.
For 35 years, with the exception of college, Joseph has been within minutes of me. For the last eight, my grandson Wilson has been equally close . . . as has Anderson for six and Cora for two. That all ends this Saturday. Suddenly, what never seemed likely is not only possible but absolutely, undeniably real. I always tried to teach Joseph to be his own person, to make his own decisions, but now that he’s chosen to practice what I preached I find myself wishing I hadn’t done such a good job.
Before I continue being all pitiful, there are a few things I want to clarify. I am eternally grateful they will only be in Memphis and not Alaska or Australia or some other too far for me to drive in a day destination. I am eternally grateful they are all alive and well and that this isn’t good-bye but see you later. But I’m spoiled. I’m accustomed to gathering at La Potosina every Sunday night and then taking the boys home, shooting basketball with Wilson and playing Hide-and-Seek in the house or a rousing round of Trampoline Tripping where I sit in the middle and the boys run in circles while I try to catch them and tickle them mercilessly. I love the surprise visits after school when the boys beg to use the paper cutter and typewriter or roll down the upstairs ramp and play in the selection room (and no, they aren’t allowed in the caskets)–or when I’m called upon to fetch Cora from day care and her face lights up when I walk through the door. But this has been a week of lasts—the last Sunday night to take them home, the last game of Hide and Seek where Cora and I secret ourselves in the closet under the stairs and Anderson runs around like a little maniac asking everyone if they’ve seen Mona. Friday will be Joseph’s last day at work. After a dozen plus years he will exit the building with no plans to return as a Shackelford employee.
The community has definitely been abuzz with speculation as to why they are leaving. Some say we’ve sold the businesses (I asked to whom and how much did we get . . . and why am I still here?). Some say we are planning to sell the businesses so he got while the gettin’ was good (an equally false assumption on the part of the general public). How ‘bout working with your family . . . ALL of your family . . . is tough even on good days? How ‘bout maybe Joseph wants to be Joseph instead of my father reincarnated? How ‘bout there are a whole host of reasons that have nothing to do with an allegedly disappearing job and everything to do with wanting to improve life for yourself and your family while doing it on your own terms?
Life and death will continue as they always have—and we will continue to do what we’ve always done—try to care for the families who come through our doors to the best of our abilities. I just won’t be seeing the flashes of my father as frequently as I once did. We won’t have Joseph’s deft hand in the prep room or his reassuring ways with the families, but we have other equally qualified, equally good, compassionate folks who work with us. They just aren’t my son.
I’m told I will be the designated munchkin chauffeur this Saturday, so in just a few days I’ll be loading up the grandkids and carrying them two and a half hours away—and permanently leaving them there. In just a few weeks the house to which I’ve routinely traveled to serve as babysitter and playmate will be occupied by strangers. The world will not end and life will go on. It’s just going to be very, very different. And I’m just selfish enough that I don’t like that kind of different . . . especially when it turns my world upside down.