Ten years ago on October 13, 2007, I lost my Dad. Ten years ago, my life changed forever. I haven’t told anyone that the so-called anniversary is today. As people see this, they might question why I haven’t said anything. The truth is I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel on this day – even when I always know that it’s coming.
It’s not that I am trying to hide it from others or don’t want people to know, but what does telling anyone accomplish? Others would instantly feel bad for me and awkward in trying to piece together the right words to say. The tricky thing is there are no right words for it. Saying things like “oh, was it really that long ago…” makes it seem more trivial than how significant it has been in my life. At the same time, it’s not like this specific day on the calendar makes it any worse than others can be.
Many don’t understand that Dad dying is no longer what my continued sadness stems from. People are right that over time grief gets easier. It gets easier to live with as you build yourself back up around your loss. It gets easier to remember the happy memories and not the times of cancer winning. It no longer is the simple fact that he is gone, but rather it becomes just how much he has missed. It’s sad to look back and see just how much he has missed out on and everything my siblings and I have gone on to do without him.
Dad died my senior year of high school, the Saturday the week before senior night for volleyball. Since then, I’ve gone through large life changes. I went to college, met Josh, earned my Masters, got my first couple of grown-up jobs, moved to Tennessee, etc.
At the same time, I have three siblings who’ve also gone through many of these same experiences. Piecing all of our experiences together, our family has now lived through more life-defining moments without him than we have memory of him being able to share with us. We’ve grown up (well, kind of..) and started working our way out into the real world in establishing our own lives of who we are going to be in the world.
In putting it into perspective, I often compare it in my own mind to what one’s first memories in life usually are. It usually happens around age six or seven as you’re beginning school that you can recall certain things and memories from your own life. With this, I’ve now spent 10 years of memories with Dad, and 10 years of memories without him. For my youngest brother, his memories without Dad surpass what Dad had the chance to be a part of.
Dad was diagnosed with cancer at the same age I am now. I still cannot even imagine being dealt such shitty cards or trying to process such a grave prognosis at such a time in his life.
My parents were newly married and starting their own lives. It’s even crazier to state that he actually ended up being one of the lucky ones. He was lucky in that he went through ups and downs of chemo and remissions but through it all was able to add an additional 19 years to his life. He was 46 when his cancer finally won. I didn’t get to say a final goodbye. You never think it’s going to happen, no matter how much time you’ve had with them. No matter how grim the prognosis is. Especially when it’s a situation where they have won so many times before. And then one day, it just happens.
Ten years later, the pain of missing Dad now often occurs out of nowhere, on days not marked by the calendar. An ACDC or Aerosmith song coming on the radio, watching his favorite sports teams, going to a big family event or holiday. Some of these might not even be truly representative of him, but more so of a certain place in time in my childhood. It can take me back to feeling like he is once again with me, with us. I do always miss his voice and laughter the most, the way he found humor in life.
In having had now several years to process and reflect on losing Dad, I feel I can see more clearly the influence he has had in both my siblings’ and I’s lives. What he taught us remains – many of the normal cliché sayings you don’t realize the truth of until it is too late. Simple and constant reminders in life.
1. Be present & content with the ordinary. Too many people put off living thinking that someday they can get to what’s important. It’s something we all struggle with, but here and now is all that’s guaranteed so it’s our job to live life as such. Even on the routine days, it’s our mindset and attitude towards life that makes all the difference. You should be looking for the good in everyday, normal routines since those days are where you wind up spending most of your time on this earth.
2. Family is all that matters, both blood born and chosen. Family is what makes life great and allows you the strength to persevere through whatever hard times you have to endure. They accept your flaws and love you anyway. They form your circle of comfort and allow you to be vulnerable in being your full self. They are the holders of your best memories in life.
3. Life isn’t fair. Oh boy, could I say so much on this topic. You can’t compare your journey to anyone else’s because there is no magic standard of cause and effect. Things might happen for no reason at all. Our minds try to make sense of things, but sometimes there will be no sense. It’s our job to accept this and continue pushing forward anyway.
4. Don’t sweat the small stuff. There are too many good things to waste time lamenting over the bad and petty issues we all go through. Being ticked off at the world all the time isn’t good for your own health as it closes you off to the love and goodness of others. If you’re having a crappy day, it’s okay. Treat it with some humor and move on. It’s still a day you’re blessed to be alive, after all.
5. Be kind, love others, & spread happiness. If you focus on this in life, you win.
Starting out with the list, I would have hoped I could have expressed it to be more eloquent and impactful. There are so many lessons learned that it becomes hard to pinpoint and list them in full. But truly, the sense is that although time is limited, love is not.
One of my favorite quotes on grief has become: “Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot.” This is how I feel that something I will miss as I continue to move through life without Dad is being able to love him and receive love in return through the special relationship between a parent and child. I’ll miss not being able to phone him and ask what he thinks about something, what his advice might be. I’ll miss him not being there as my siblings and I settle down. All of the memories lost because they never will get the chance to be created.
So on today, as I reflect back on what has led me to my present moment, I am grateful for the love I do have in my life. I am not necessarily grateful for the experience of my Dad dying, but I see the beauty of its outcome. It has allowed me to appreciate and see more clearly what’s important in life. For one, I am so very fortunate to have my Mom, my siblings, and Josh; & I am even blessed to understand their importance in my life while I still have them – before it’s too late.
Therefore, as this has continued to get longer and longer, I’ve come full circle in trying to connect why I started writing this in the first place. Although today marks ten years, the experience of living without Dad continues to influence me in so many ways, both past, present, and in looking ahead. With that, I think at times what means the most are people just simply being willing to listen. Which is why I decided to write this. Which is why I wanted to share it. I want his absence to continue to be recognized in positive ways as he lives on through my siblings and me. I just want his influence and impact to be understood, to be remembered.