This time of year is hard for me, and this day in particular. Fifteen years ago today, November 26, 1998, I lost my dad. I was twelve years old. It was a cold, wet Thanksgiving morning. He came home from a run, and died on our doorstep. I was the only one there. It was traumatic and terrifying and awful. He was my hero, and then he was gone.
Those memories of my dad’s last moments have never gone away. I don’t know that they ever will completely. They were burned into my retinas and imprinted upon my neural pathways. But over the years, I have healed. I have learned to cope with the images and the thoughts, to address the anxiety and fear. However, I still haven’t learned how to get used to him being gone.; I don’t think that will ever happen either. I still cry about him, about missing him. I still mourn the friend and father that I lost. My father is one of the most important people who has ever, and will ever, touch my life. We had a bond that was like no other, a friendship that can not be recreated. With him I felt safe, understood, supported. When he listened, he HEARD me. He SAW me. There are days when I’m not sure anyone else understands me the way he did.
I have had friends who have lost parents since my dad passed that have asked me if it gets better, easier. I wish that the answer was as simple as the question. After dad died, people told me that it would get better with time, that “time heals all wounds”. It does and it doesn’t. With time, the sharpness of the pain, the heart-wrenching anguish eases, the memories lose their clarity, the details fade. The pain and the sadness don’t go away, but they do change. They take on new sensations. I used to feel like I couldn’t breathe when I thought about my dad. Now, the sensation when I am missing him is more like an ache, a void, an empty hole that will never really be filled. I still dream about him though, and even in my dreams I am always sobbing because I somehow know that he is going away, and that today is the last day I will see him. I beg him to stay, but my subconscious even in my sleep realizes that he is already gone.
I often spend the days leading up to dad’s death feeling sad and angry. In reflecting recently on the upcoming anniversary, I started to think about how I was not honoring the man he was. Mourning him and reliving those horrific moments when he passed were only doing a disservice to myself and to his memory; remembering those last breaths did not heal me, they only reopened the wounds I work so hard to keep sealed. I want to remember my dad today not as he was in the moments he passed but as the man he was when he was alive, as the wonderful caring amazing father and best friend that he was. How cruelly ironic that we often remember people not for how they lived but how they died. I want to relive the stories and the bond we shared, the laughter and the secrets we had. Instead of mourning, I am going to celebrate him. I am going to remember how we were, instead of how I am now without him. Below are a few snapshots of my memories of him.
- The first concert I ever went to was with my dad. He took me to Garth Brooks in Central Park in New York City. My dad loved country music. I remember sitting in the park on a blanket surrounded by thousands of people and watching Garth singing on the big screen, sitting next to my dad, the vibrations of the music rolling over me.
- I had two ducks, George and Georgetta (they turned out to both be George’s, in the end). When they got eye infections, dad helped me bring them up to our house and apply antibiotics. He was the fixer of all things sick or broken.
- Dad liked to shave our dog, Max. He would shave an “M” into his side. Sometimes he would dress him up in shorts and a shirt, sunglasses. Max was an amazing dog.
- Just a few short months before he died, dad and I went to adopt a dog from the animal shelter; we named her Lucky. Max dog had passed, and I was lonely. After dad was gone, Lucky was my connection to him. A tangible piece of him left behind. What a gift to have had Lucky all those years after he was gone, a constant reminder that he was real, he had existed. She passed away a few months ago at the ripe old age of 16 (that’s a lot in dog years). She lived a great life.
- Dad read to me every night before bed. We read all sorts of books, everything from the Tolkien Trilogy to The Source. I treasured our special night time reading. Now, I read myself to sleep each night, and I read with Little C. His traditions live on with me, and now, in her.
- I wear my father’s wedding ring on my middle finger. When I got married, it was there. When Little C was born, the ring was there. I never take it off. It may not be the same, but like Lucky, it is a piece of him that has been left with me.
- We had a miniature pony, named Stormy. She played the “Horse of Another Color” from the Wizard of Oz in our school play when I was in fourth grade. Dad felt bad transporting her in the back of our truck because it scared her, so he walked her to and from the school back to our house, several miles. This was my father, a man with a huge heart and a quiet voice.
There are hundreds more stories I could tell you about-and hundreds of others that I can no longer recall. Like I said, the memories fade, but the love I felt from him, the love I was given, is something that can never be taken away, no matter how many years he is gone. Be thankful. Hold your loved ones close. Cherish and treasure today, for we are not promised tomorrow. And if you, like me, are missing someone, know that their love is instilled within you as well-which means that you are never really, truly, alone.
July 3, 1953 – November 26, 1998