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September 22, 2021

Sharon Randall: People leave, love remains

By Sharon Randall

Five years ago, my younger brother left this world for the next. I will never forget him. I couldn’t if I tried. If you’d met him, you’d remember him, too.

His name was Denton, but we called him “Bubba.” He was well known and much respected as a builder of fine homes. But he was loved best as a husband, a father, a brother and a friend.

This week, the anniversary of his passing brought me a gift that filled me with joy.

I met Jessica when she was 2, going on 21. We’d have met sooner, but I lived in California, far from the small Southern town where she and I were born.

I missed my family, but didn’t get to visit them often. My husband and I shared three growing children. Life was full and travel was costly. But I kept hearing from my brother about his beautiful, brilliant daughter. I wanted to meet her and see my Southern family again. So we flew “home” to the Carolinas. And when the hugs and tears subsided, my brother presented his daughter like a trophy.

I wish you could’ve seen her.

She looked up at me and said, in a 2-year-old Southern drawl, “You wanna see me on TV?”

Every moment of her life, from birth until we met, had been captured in videos by her dad. We watched them all. She fell asleep before they ended. I stayed awake, thanks to Bubba’s running commentary. (“You gotta see this one! A seagull poops on her head!”)

He was right about Jessica. She was beautiful and brilliant. And she still is. I saw her this week for the first time in too many years, along with her husband and children, a boy, 9, and a girl, 7, who were both adored by their grandpa.

I had to miss my brother’s memorial service five years ago because I injured my foot and couldn’t walk. Jessica and I have kept in touch through emails and Facebook, but we were long overdue for an in-person talk.

So when she wrote to say she and her family were vacationing this week in California (not close enough to see us in Carmel Valley) we arranged to meet in San Francisco, for brunch.
Our husbands sat at one end of the table. The kids sat between us, eating pancakes and behaving well, if occasionally kicking each other under the table. Jessica and I sat at the other end and talked for almost two hours. We caught up on family news and shared what our lives were like during the pandemic. And we talked a lot about her dad and all the funny, wonderful things he did.

We could’ve swapped stories about him until the cows came home. How he liked to pick wildflowers for her and her mom, wrap the stems in electrical tape, and leave them in their cars to surprise them.

How, as a grown man, he hid in a bush, growled like a bear and scared our sister to tears.

How he comforted me and my children after their dad died, and even made us laugh.

But there is never enough time to tell all the stories about someone you’ve loved and lost.

So we all hugged each other, said a long goodbye and agreed that the next time they come to California, they’ll come see us.

When I was a child, Sunday dinner was a weekly family ritual, a chance to talk face-to-face and eat fried chicken.

These days, for many of us, it’s too expensive or too hard to get together in person. And some people won’t eat fried chicken. So we try to keep in touch long distance with phone calls, messages, videos and prayers.

I am certain my brother was with us at that table, laughing at the kids, listening to the stories, especially the stories we told about him. We couldn’t see him. (If he’d been there in person, he’d have picked up the check.) But we sensed his presence and felt his unfailing love.

People leave, but love remains. We can’t see them face to face. But we tell stories that connect us long distance. And we keep forever close heart to heart.

Sharon Randall is the author of “The World and Then Some.” She can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924 or www.sharonrandall.com.

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