Next chapter(s) of life

My younger daughter is getting married in August, and I have been given one relatively small chore in preparation – that is, in addition to keeping the checkbook balanced, which is an old, but still effective (I’m finding) little joke about fathers of the bride.

The little chore which has been entrusted to me is to find 50 photographs of my daughter taken at various points during her childhood.  The idea is that my 50 photos will be mingled with 50 photos of my soon-to-be son-in-law, resulting in a nice slideshow for people to watch at the reception, while we all wait for the bride and groom to arrive from wherever it is that brides and grooms go after their wedding ceremonies.

For those who are wondering – no, I’m not officiating. I told both daughters years ago that the only role at their weddings I truly looked forward to was being their dad.  Full disclosure: my daughters are also keenly aware that I’ve been known to cry to the point of embarrassment at times like these, and I suspect that neither one was keen on the idea of hearing me blubber my way through their wedding ceremonies.

Also, fortunately, they’ve got a couple of cousins who are ordained pastors and who can do a fine job of leading them through the vows.

But back to the photos.  When my older daughter was married four summers ago, I seized the opportunity to sort out the entire collection of family photos, including over 20 years’ worth of family vacations, Christmas mornings, proms, school graduations, etc.

Over the years, all of our family photos had been tossed into a large plastic tub – kind of a giant Tupperware container – waiting for me to tackle the job of sorting either in my retirement or in preparation for a wedding, whichever event came first.

So, four summers ago I sorted and categorized, and now the entire collection can be searched according to subject matter and chronological order.

Here’s the thing, though: A project that should have taken a few hours, or maybe a long weekend of focused effort, took days and days.  Why?  Well, you don’t look through 20 years of family history without stopping to remember and reminisce and – at least in my case – shed a few tears.

Those were good years.  I didn’t always think so at the time, of course, because they were also busy and demanding years, but they were good years.   And the photos confirm that we enjoyed ourselves.  We had fun together.  We did all the things that families hope to do.

And then one day it was all over.  Not really, but that’s how it seemed.  For 20 years I devoted myself – and I don’t want to sound heroic about it because I wasn’t perfect – but I devoted myself, more or less, to being a parent and raising two daughters I was crazy about.  And then, in the span of a few short years, they were gone – on to the next chapters of their lives.

The problem was that I couldn’t quite imagine the next chapter in my own life.  The sense of loss I felt at taking my older daughter to college was something I will never, ever forget.  I knew then – that very day – that my life had changed.  And only now am I beginning to see that something new has come along.  A new chapter has finally opened.

And it’s not bad.  I’m starting to like it as a matter of fact.  I like knowing my daughters as adults.  I still worry about them and listen for any hint of trouble in their voices when they call, but I like the people they have become, and I like talking with them, not as children, but as people who have interesting and thoughtful things to say.

I’ve learned something important about loss and grief in all of this.  And it’s that new chapters do eventually open for us.  They’re not necessarily better (or worse) than the chapter that has closed.  They’re new – with new possibilities, new opportunities, and (in the case of my family) new ways of having a relationship.

This time around the photo sorting is a source of joy – with only an occasional tear and twinge of regret that those wonderful days are gone for good. I suppose that looking forward to a new chapter of life is a good description of faith – “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.


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