The Path to Acceptance

It is so difficult to wrap my mind around the fact that today marks 16 years that my dad left us. Some days it feels like it was lifetimes ago that he passed, other times I am transported back to that cold rainy Thanksgiving morning and I can feel the pitted pavement under my bare feet as I ran to our neighbor’s house to get help. I replay those moments over and over, years later, trying to find the key….searching for the secret as to how I might possibly go back and change it all. I spoke to my mom last night, and among other things we agreed that if we could go back in time there would be so much that we would change. But we can’t. I can’t. No matter how much time and energy I invest into replaying that day, dad is not coming back. It is an exercise in futility.

Dad came home from a run Thanksgiving morning and died on our doorstep. I was 12. I couldn’t remember the number for 911. I panicked. And then I spent years blaming myself for his death because had I just remembered 911, he would be here. I was sure of it. And if I could blame myself for his death, it wouldn’t be as scary. It wouldn’t be so completely and utterly terrifying that someone as amazing as my dad could just be gone without some sort of blame being placed. It couldn’t possibly just BE. Does that make sense? It did to me, for a very long time. Occasionally it still does. Over the years I have had to learn to forgive my 12 year old self, to allow that little girl to let go of the blame and self-contempt that I harbored against her for so long. The fact is that blame won’t bring him back. Tormenting myself and those around me won’t break him back. Praying and kicking and screaming and crying….none of it will bring him back. I have to learn to live in a state of acceptance….and I hope in time to live in a state of not only acceptance but peace.

Last year I wrote this in my post about dad: “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.” And so I can tell you that another year later, I still have not adjusted; the hole in my heart still remains. I am still searching for how to find acceptance and peace with my reality. My mom says that when such a huge hole is torn into your soul, it never truly heals, and I am starting to accept that she is right. Perhaps this post is really about acceptance, or the search for it more like. About delving into my soul and trying to discover how to possibly live with a broken heart and continue to love without hindrance.

When I think about dad, I cry. I can not tell stories about him without crying. I can not think about him being gone with crying. I want to be able to think about him and laugh, to be able to tell Little C tales about our adventures together without wiping salty tears from my eyes. I don’t want her to associate Grandpa Gene with sadness – I want her to have a relationship with this amazing man who would have absolutely loved our little girl. I want to show her pictures of him and talk about how much he loved to play the guitar without breaking down. Even as I type this and think about the way that he sang and how sweetly he helped me care for my chickens tears well in my eyes. Last night on the drive home I spoke to my mom, and I cried. There just seems to be this huge sadness that I thought would have abated by now. Logically 16 years sounds like a long time, certainly enough time for wounds to heal and hearts to mend. But 16 years later I can not talk about dad and that day he left without losing it. And I wonder if this is “normal”….and yes I know that there is no “normal” in grief and that everyone has their own timeline but sometimes I can’t help but feel stunted, like there is something wrong with me. Like, why hasn’t the sadness changed? Shouldn’t it have dulled by now? Why is it still so sharp and burning, why is it literally just below the surface of my consciousness? Why do thoughts of my father and my loss pepper so much of what I do? Why do I still think of him each and every day…why is there still a deep, aching pain that presents as a tightness in my chest and tears in my eyes? Probably because I still have not accepted his death.

Usually I try my very best to view that metaphorical glass as being half full, to “look on the bright side of things”, so to speak. I try to keep my posts as positive and light as possible…or to at least find the gift or the silver lining in the curve balls that life inevitably pitches into the mix  (good lord how many colloquialisms can I fit into one sentence?!). But to write and tell you all that I am in acceptance of and at peace with dad’s death would be a lie. And I didn’t create this blog to lie, I created it so I could be as truly, authentically ME as possible. So I’m just being real when I say that the loss is still a crushing blow. Generally in life I am malleable, I am good at changing and shifting and adjusting to life’s changes. But I have never been able to adjust to his absence. And so I will continue to investigate how one comes to peace with loss, to search for ways to just be okay. Because some days, I’m not okay, and I want to be.

It has always felt cruelly ironic to me that my dad was taken on Thanksgiving, the day of thanks. The one day a year dedicated solely to being grateful for all that we have in our lives. I try to be grateful for the time that I did have with him, to be grateful for the fact that I was blessed to have such an amazing father the years that I did. I know full well that there are plenty of fathers out there who are not incredible like mine was (obviously my dad was the best dad who ever existed) and so for this I am and always will be eternally grateful. But regardless of how hard I try to remember to be grateful, it still just feels like a cruel joke; adding insult to injury.

This day is always a hard one. It represents pain and suffering and fear and the moment that my life was forever changed, and somehow I need to replace the emotions that this day brings with new, happier ones. This year I want to do my very best to celebrate dad instead of quietly mourning him while simultaneously resenting Thanksgiving and all that it represents. I used to despise all of those happy families gathered together celebrating, eating turkey and rejoicing in their love and unity (at least this is how I imagined they were). In my quest for acceptance I need to stop blaming Thanksgiving and all of those families that still have their loved ones and start creating new happy traditions. Other families have Thanksgiving traditions, and I think that it is time to start our own. I never want dad to become obsolete, I want to honor and remember him in a way that celebrates his life. Dad’s passing always falls on or just before Thanksgiving, so on the 26th of each year I want to take Little C to the beach with a pecan pie (that was his favorite) and eat sweet pecans and tell her stories about Grandpa Gene and his sidekick, Max-dog. I want to to sit, staring out at the vast ocean that always makes me feel the closest to dad, and tell silly stories and show Little C pictures of her Grandpa. I want to rejoice in her little life and in the fact that I HAVE stories to tell her rather than wallow in the losses. And I want to do it with dry eyes. Yeah right. But I am going to try, and I am going to create this tradition to replace the old ones that no longer serve me.

I’ll end this piece with one more excerpt from my post last year, because I feel that it still best describes my love for my dad: “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.  So 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.”

In Memory of Eugene Aaron Frank
July 3, 1953 – November 26, 1998