Last week we celebrated my dad’s 76thbirthday. Without him. He passed away in November 2016 from a recurrence of the leukemia he’d beaten a few years earlier.
Of course I think about him all the time, but the reminder of his birthday brought a flood of reflections. And when I’m flooded with emotions, I turn to writing to process what I’m feeling.
As I started to write this, I revisited a post I wrote for my semi-retired food blog. I wrote it to mark what would have been his 74thbirthday – the first birthday after he died. I remembered that the article was about making tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches – his favorite meal – to remember “Papa” with my boys. I didn’t recall any thing else about what I’d written. It gave me pause to read how similar my feelings are today to those of two years ago:
With March 7th approaching, I’ve felt the need to process some of this loss by writing about it in my food blog.
Is that weird? Probably.
Is there a “right” way to deal with the grief of losing your dad? I don’t know.What I do know is I’m not ready to really write about missing my dad. I may never be up to that.
Reading that, I thought: “Am I ready now? Am I up to really writing about missing my dad?”
I don’t know. Maybe… I keep being drawn to put my thoughts in writing, so I guess that means I should try.
What makes me sad most frequently is when I feel the loss of my dad’s presence in my boys’ lives. Especially as they are entering their teenage years, experiencing so many firsts, and moving toward being the men they are going to be. I’m so sad that he’s not here to enjoy the milestones. Papa would have loved showing them how to shave, teaching them to drive stick shift, meeting the first girlfriends (and talking them through the first breakups), advising them how to save the money from their first after-school jobs, talking over the college visits and the career paths they’re considering…. And so much more. And it pains me beyond measure that my sons no longer have his frequent and consistently calm presence in their lives.
Of course, I’m a part of all those experiences with them. And I try so very hard to represent his qualities and nature in our interactions. But, I’m not him.
As I dwell on this loss in our lives, my mind keeps turning to a specific memory:
My dad’s hospital stay was into the second week. One very early morning I awoke to a phone call from my mom. “Dad wants to talk to you. Can you come to the hospital?”
I don’t remember driving there or riding the elevator to his room. I do remember seeing my mom and sister standing quietly at the foot of his bed – but we didn’t speak. I went to his bedside and reached over all the tubes and wires to put my hand on his shoulder.
He opened his eyes and smiled at me. I felt a surge of hope at how alert he looked – more so than he’d been in many days. But his smile was brief. He looked me in the eyes and said, “Beth, I can’t fight this. I don’t have the strength and I want to stop.”
“No! You’re the strongest man I know! You have to keep trying! You can’t leave us!”
That’s what I wanted to sob.
But I didn’t. I nodded and held his gaze. And said as sincerely as I’ve ever said anything in my life, “Okay, Dad. I understand.”
He smiled a small smile. “Thank you. I love you, Beth.”
I smiled back. “I know, Dad. I love you, too.”
It was several days in hospice after that decision before he passed. He was never able to speak to me again. But I know in that moment at the hospital I was fully reflecting back to him the type of love he had shown me my whole life: supportive, understanding, steady and strong. I was being the daughter he had raised me to be.
That type of love is what I strive to give my sons every day, consistently through easy times and rough. It’s the only way I have to keep my dad present in their lives – to help them grow into the men he would have so enjoyed seeing them become.