Posted by: Joelle Burnette | January 4, 2013

Dad and Orion’s belt

Orion constellation

Orion constellation

My dad’s frailty has become evident with every shaky, unsteady step. It surrounds his body and controls his movements when he attempts to grasp a fork, pick up a cup, or settle into a seat. It’s difficult to watch my father’s body failing him; a shell that neglects to acknowledge the continuing strength presented by his mind.

When he left my home tonight, he painstakingly stepped forward with the aid of a rolling walker. Guiding my father along the short path to the car, my son held a bar on the front of the walker while I stood behind him offering false security as I held my hands on his waist.

Unfortunately, just as I can’t stop someone from walking into danger in a scary movie, I could no better prevent dad from falling if he should teeter and collapse to the ground. I lacked the strength to hold him up.  A few steps combined with the uneven stone path leading up to our door have become a treacherous obstacle course to a man who formerly possessed enough stamina, strength and agility to win basketball championships, hike over rocky terrain to dizzying altitudes in the mountains, or even just to carry me on his shoulders.

A few steps from the car, I looked beyond my hunched father and noticed the constellation Orion lingering on the horizon.

“There’s Orion,” I noted. While my sister began chatting about the stars she can’t see where she lives, my simple statement triggered light tears as memories flooded my mind. I saw a summer evening when I was a child and my dad brought me outside to look at the night sky.

“Do you see those three stars lined up? That’s Orion’s belt,” dad had taught me before leading me on a journey through space. One arm stretched up pointing to the heavens and his other hand wresting on my shoulder, he traced the path of various stars leading to the North Star, the red Betelgeuse, the Northern Cross and numerous astral selections.

Out of the three of us kids, I was the daughter most interested in dad’s knowledge about the stars, space, math and science. He had been a navigator as an officer in the Air Force and he passed on his navigation books and star charts to me. Orion was the first constellation he pointed out, and it’s always been my favorite celestial body.

As my parents age, I find myself tightly grasping those lessons passed down to me; the moments that have impacted my life and filled my memories. I try to convince my children that this man once was young and filled with life. Instead, I’m left with tears as I dread the knowledge that nights like those summers so long ago are gone forever. I can only pass along the same knowledge and lessons by creating happy memories for my children.


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