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  • The last time I saw Dad, it was Thanksgiving. I would celebrate my 50th birthday and I was thankful, even so. Dad lives in Florida and he's sick. I came to visit him with my sister. We came from the cold weather of Pennsylvania into the technicolor landscape of Florida. I didn't know it then, but I had come to say goodbye.

    For most of our week-long visit, we had been doing chores that he couldn't do - cleaning the garage, pruning the bushes, whatever we could. We set up his Christmas tree and a little village that he had collected over the years. He supervised all this activity from a chair in the living room that lifted him to his feet. His walker stood ready for the painful steps to his bedroom.

    For my birthday, my sister and I went to swim with the manatees. It was her gift to me. We had worked all week, so this was our opportunity to have a little fun. It was amazing. Manatees have huge bodies, gentle faces and long eyelashes. One of them came right up to me. He had a quizzical expression, as if to ask -what have we here? It was so funny that I laughed a spew of bubbles and startled him. He moved away. I saw manatee mothers with their babies. One baby strayed too far away from his mother, trying to get to know us better, and we heard his mother calling him. She might have been scolding him. He turned reluctantly to follow her back to the safety of a roped area. I would have stayed with the manatees all day if I could have. It was magical.

    When we returned to my father's house he was dressed. His hair was combed and he had shaved. It had taken quite an effort for him to do this for us. He wore a blue button down shirt that matched his blue eyes. My sister has those eyes. I commented on how sharp he looked. He said he didn't want my last memory of him to be in his pajamas. My eyes welled with tears and I told him I would see him many more times. But he knew. He knew what I would not.

    My dad passed away on February 12, 2012. After the service, my wonderful step-mother Rose asked us to go through his things and to take whatever we wanted. I wanted this picture. It seemed to me to express exactly the overpowering sense of loss I was feeling. In the picture, my father is walking into school. It is the first day of third grade and he does not hesitate. He does not look back, or wave. He just goes on.
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