25 years gone
He died when I was 16 years old. Tomorrow will be 25 years.
Twenty five years. A quarter century.
It’s hard to fathom that my dad was in my life for just 16 years when he’s been gone for so many more.
The memories are still clear, yet starting to fade just a little.
I try not to think of the arguments we had (i.e., that so many teenagers have with their parents, especially during a sticky divorce), and instead focus on the happier moments — e.g., hot summers at the beach and vacations in the wagon, baseball family picnics, barbecues out back, learning to drive while sitting on his lap, swimming on his back at the community pool, listening to old Motown and jazz records, movie nights with popcorn, chocolate and root beer floats…
I try not to think of his sick weakened body — a shell of the man and father I once knew — and instead try to remember his more active self, smiling and tanned and ready for tennis, or lifting me up for a big bear hug…
The day he died I lost a part of my innocence forever.
I lost that last bit of my childhood, though at sixteen you can bet I already felt quite like an adult. At sixteen I had already had a few serious boyfriends. I had already had sex. I had already gotten drunk enough to have a major hangover (not related to the last bit about sex). I had already borrowed my mom’s car without permission (stolen?) on numerous occasions. I had already worked my first job (actually, my first job was working for my dad, doing paperwork for his practice at the dining room table and my second job was babysitting; but my first “real” job was at a pharmacy). I had already experimented with drugs, smoking pot with a friend after school. I had already traveled alone several times. I even planned to live and work at the beach that summer with a friend. I was a mature, independent 16 year old, going on 22.
And then I learned about grief. I learned how time stops, yet just for you, and how life goes on for everyone else. I learned how people don’t know how to deal with grief, how they don’t know what to say when you lose someone you love, so they say stupid, even hurtful things, or nothing at all. Even well meaning people. (Really, for the record, one of the only things to say is “I’m so sorry for your loss.”)
I learned that cancer is a bitch and hope is her mistress.
I learned about what is important in life, and what is trivial (a lesson I re-learned in the struggle to build our family).
I learned, maybe too late, about how uniquely special the bond is between father and daughter. How a young woman might search and long her whole life for that kind of love, for that approval.
I learned how people can be ignorant and cruel.
You see I didn’t just lose my father 25 years ago. I lost his whole side of the family too. His family wasn’t very large to begin with, yet, despite my best efforts, after he died that was that. Long story, but sad, really.
Though it has been twenty five years, I still miss my dad and think of him often. And though I realize it’s magical thinking, I think about how wonderful it would be to have him in my life today.
I really wish he could have met Mac, my amazing husband, who I met just a few years after he died. I wish he could have been there on our wedding day, nearly 15 years ago, when my brothers held me up and walked me down the aisle (trail, actually) and I thought of him. I wish he could have seen me evolve into an intelligent woman, with a career dedicated to helping others, like him. I wish he could have met Baby Jaye, his grandchild. I wish he could have caught a glimpse of the light in her smiling face and heard her sweet laughter. I wish I could watch her crawl up in his lap for a big old hug, just like I used to.
I wish he could have seen his only daughter finally become a mother.
So tomorrow I will light a candle for my dad, for the life he lived, and the life he didn’t.