This is a picture of my husband's grandfather, whom he never got a chance to meet. This handsome Irishman immigrated to the United States from County Cork when he was 19 years old, and sadly, he never made it back to the land of his birth to visit the family he'd left behind. My mother-in-law would often say of her father, "Imagine: he left home at 19, and his mother never saw him again." To her--a woman who absolutely lived for her own eight children--this thought was incomprehensible.
My mother-in-law's father died suddenly and prematurely of a bleeding ulcer when she was only 10 and her one sibling--a brother--was 13. Her father's absence left an enormous hole in her life, one that she felt until the day she died, 67 years later, in 2009. I recall her saying that she could only remember him raising his voice in anger at her once, when she'd talked back to her mother. She always spoke about what a kind and gentle soul he was, and how well thought of he was by everyone who met him. My husband is named for him and shares many of the character traits for which his Irish grandfather was known.
My mother-in-law's mother continued to love her husband long after he'd left this world, and she never remarried. She lived another 30 years after he died, until my husband was in high school. My husband's grandmother used to tell her daughter, "I miss your father more every day." My mother-in-law missed him terribly, too. He had died on March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph (how apropos), and my husband remembers that on that date every year when he was growing up, his mother was not herself, and he and his brothers and sisters knew they needed to behave like angels and give her some space.
My husband's family has always been quite proud of descending, on both sides of the family tree, from Irish roots. This grandfather, however, is the only relative who was first generation Irish, straight from the old sod, and that--combined with the fact that he died so young--has given him an almost mythical quality. But he was a real man, adored by his wife, his son, and his young daughter. And all of us who loved my mother-in-law are comforted by the idea that when she died, she was finally reunited in the afterlife with her beloved father, who'd left her, in this life, much too soon.