Of late my husband and I have been traveling west more frequently than usual, a necessity brought about by our oldest grandson’s love of, and participation in, theater. His last full-scale production was Disney’s The Descendants, Jr.—the kid version of The Descendants (which I guess should have gone without saying . . . but I said it anyway . . . just in case), complete with all the singing and dancing, and generally following the original plot, but without the dragon at the end, since that would be incredibly hard to do without some masterful special effects.
Wilson, the aforementioned oldest grandson, was cast in the role of Ben, the soon to be king of Auradon, and the sole person there willing to give the banished inhabitants of the Isle of the Lost a second chance. As he sings and dances his way through the story, the descendants of the Disney villains realize they’d rather be good than evil, the magic wand which had been stolen is returned to the Fairy Godmother, and Maleficent is turned into a lizard (except not in the kid version because, again, special effects . . .).
As I sat and watched this 13 year old teenager who is now taller than I am with a voice I don’t recognize, perform with the confidence and professionalism of a seasoned veteran, my father sat down beside me. Not physically. Since he died in 2009 and was incapacitated long before that, physically would have been a tad on the impossible side. But he was there, nonetheless. During his lifetime he loved music and he loved performing and I knew if he had been able he would have been there; when the last scene ended and the kids had taken their bows, he would have told Wilson what a great job he did. I knew he would have smiled every time Wilson had the opportunity to sing and chuckled every time he did his cheesy dance moves. So when the performance ended, I found Wilson and told him what a wonderful job he’d done . . . and that his Dee Bob would be so proud of him. Wilson’s eyes met mine and he asked “Really?” because even though he doesn’t remember his Shackelford grandfather, he’s heard enough about him to know that was a true compliment. I had a hard time saying it and holding back the tears, and I’m pretty sure my daughter-in-law who was close by and heard the exchange struggled a bit, too. Because we all miss him. And it’s milestones like this that make us realize just how much.
When we lose someone we love, Grief becomes an unwelcome houseguest, making himself at home and rarely ever departing. But we don’t just grieve what we miss with them . . . we also grieve what they miss with us. The moments in life we know they would have enjoyed . . . the moments we would have shared . . . the moments that would have become new memories to be cherished in the years to come. Whether it’s a birthday or a graduation or a wedding, a new job or a new house or a new baby—whatever the event, it just feels incomplete when someone is missing from the celebration. And our grief is multiplied because we know how much it would have meant to them to be there.
I know the future holds a great many more of these moments . . . Wilson moments and Anderson moments and Cora moments and Malcolm moments . . . moments I will desperately wish my parents could personally experience. Of course, despite their absence they’ll always be with us in spirit. And who knows? Maybe they’re closer than I realize—smiling at the memories I think we’re making without them.
About the author: Lisa Shackelford Thomas is a fourth generation member of a family that’s been in funeral service since 1926. She has been employed at Shackelford Funeral Directors in Savannah, Tennessee for over 40 years and currently serves as the manager there. Any opinions expressed here are hers and hers alone, and may or may not reflect the opinions of other Shackelford family members or staff.