A year ago today, we lost Roger, D’s dad.
All of the bad things that happened to us in the past year — wrecks, dog attacks, serious illnesses — are meaningless next to that stark reality.
If you were creating a husband and father from scratch, you’d use Roger Lankford for the mold. Then you’d smash it, because you couldn’t possibly do any better.
He was kind. He was good. He was loving. He was honest. He was selfless. He was smart. He was perceptive. He could do anything that came up on a farm. He had beautiful blue eyes that always twinkled, and the softest Southern voice. He was delighted by people, and always saw the best in them. He laughed a lot, and smiled even more. He was slow to anger, quick to love. (D is definitely his child.) He was a big old mountain of a man, about 6-4, but sweeter than the molasses he loved to make on the farm each fall.
Some people think he looked a lot like Santa. I think maybe they were brothers. They sure share the same good qualities.
He was the kind of guy who made you become a better person, just to try to be more like him.
We knew we were on borrowed time with him for the past few years. He was living without working kidneys, and dialysis is simply too hard on the body to be a long-term solution.
I’m telling you, as someone who’s faced a life-threatening illness myself, few people could ever be as brave or courageous as Rog was in the face of constant pain and the roller-coaster medical world of renal failure. I know I couldn’t.
He fought long, he fought hard. He fought longer then he wanted to, I think. And he did it because he didn’t want to leave the two people who were the nucleus of his world — D and her mom. They’d been through difficulties earlier in their lives, and Roger was a rock who never wavered, through the toughest of times.
He kept on living for so long simply because he knew that when he was gone, he’d leave a big old mountain-sized hole in their hearts and souls. He knew they would grieve so deeply, be so incredibly heartbroken, that life would lose its magic. He lived with his pain for so long, just to keep them from feeling that devastation.
D’s an only child, and he knew she would take care of her mom after he was gone. But he worried about D, the only child. In the months before he died, we’d had some quiet conversations. We didn’t need many words; we knew what we were talking about without them. He let me know that he expected me to be there for D, as she would be there for her mom. And I let him know that I would.
He was a good man. He was the best man.
I am so lucky to have been a part of his life for 12 years. I am all the poorer for not having known him longer.
We shared a love of good food and cooking. Some of my favorite times with him were spent in the kitchen — it was usually just the two of us, because that’s not the favorite room in the house for D or her mom.
In the early years when he still felt good, we’d mix and chop and stir together, him passing on good Tennessee country cooking tips, me sharing my jambalaya secrets. In more recent times, I’d do the culinary creating before he and Madge came over. But he’d always come in, give me a big hug, then immediately start lifting pot lids. “Man, that smells good!” he’d say. “What’s in that?”
In the past year, I’ve tried to cook a lot for D and her mom. I feel closer to Rog when I do, and I hope it makes them happy, too. I wish I could ease their pain in more tangible ways, more quickly. I wish I could bring Roger back. I wish they didn’t feel that razor’s edge every day when they wake up and realize he’s not here. I wish I could make it all better. Of course, I can’t.
Roger isn’t here any longer, but he will forever be with us, as those who are loved deeply are. Every day, when I see the twinkle in D’s beautiful blue eyes, I think of Roger.
I doubt I’ll see that twinkle today, but I hope I do. It’s what he’d want. It honors him. And whatever your beliefs about the afterlife, spirits like Roger’s don’t just go away. He lives on, in the hearts and memories of the many, many people who knew him.
For Roger, with love.