A random thought blows across my mind, a timeless impression of an era gone by. I see it so clearly, hear the sounds, smell the smells, and relive it seamlessly all over again. It’s a whisper again, then it’s gone. My familiar surroundings envelope me again and a single tear streaks down my cheek. I hesitate to wipe it away, as though I would be wiping away the memory, as well. The happiness of the moment swells within my heart and suddenly the ache of knowing it will only ever be a memory overwhelms me. The tears flow, the smile fades.
My father passed away a decade ago. It is still fresh every year when the anniversary comes around. Some days, the grief is more raw; some days, I can move on. I recently had a chance to speak about my family. In the moment, I was so sure I could lay all the happy times out there to be heard, to be felt. But, as with every timeline, there is that inevitable moment when the world shifts under your feet again. You remember that phone call, the choking silence, the rushed words. The sleepless night that followed the news. You can still feel the pit in your heart and your gut as you replay the words over and over in your mind, like the twist of a plot in a story you are not the author of.
When I speak with my mother about it, I choke up again and reach for the ever-present tissue during this season. Even the good times remembered bring tears and a tight throat. The smile is there, of course, but it’s a sort of delicate and tremulous smile. One that belies the roiling emotions that have been stirred up, like a tide in a storm. The quivering lips press tightly together, followed by the sniffle, and rounded out with another unsuccessful attempt to speak.
I will be the first to admit that I went through the denial, the anger, the bargaining, and every tool I had in my emotional arsenal all those years ago. It still hurts to this day and I imagine it always will…
But I have to be honest. My father would not want me wallowing in grief. He would not want me to continue to be stuck in those pain-filled moments; those last few days where we said all we could say, knowing it would be the last time we would see each other face to face on planet Earth. I can see so clearly the tender care my brother took as he fed our father. I can feel the yearning that held me there by his hospital bed, but the duty that we had to leave and return to our lives. We both did. There were many tears I shed over that last week as I learned how he was fading. I talked to him the first couple of days over the phone, but then the weakness overtook him and he began to fade from our lives. No attempt made by man and modern medicine was having any effect.
The inevitable was happening and we were helpless to do anything about it. And when it happened, we were all in shock. We put on our brave faces, knowing he was in a better place. We cried our tears in private and lived through the memories. We made the plans and wore the clothes of the grieving. We were surrounded by those who truly felt a loss, those who knew my father and the great man he was. We were comforted by the fact that we will see him again one day, but not on this side of heaven.
All these years later, we relive the memories and we smile, we laugh, we cry. We still miss him so deeply, but we can tell the stories. We remember how his favorite color dominated his wardrobe, how he was always the last one to finish dinner, how we liked his alone time after a long day at work, how he had the strongest work ethic I’ve ever seen, and how he loved us to the depth of his being.
Through the loss, I try to make the most of every moment, look for ways to improve myself, and be the strong person he was. I can never live up to who and what he was, but as I live what he taught me, I know his memory will live on. As long as I remember the good times, and the painful ones, too, his life will continue to mean something, too.
There are 7 billion people on the planet and only a few of us were blessed enough to know him. Above all, I think I am the proudest, because he was my father.