10.18.19 to 10.18.22

Three has always been a magical number. 33 is our lucky number–you had a Rams jersey with 33 on it, and now I have 33 tattooed on my arm in your handwriting. And here it is, three years since you had to go—no, three years since you got to leave the body that had been ravaged by so much distress and disease.

It always seemed fitting, too, that you would go in October because it’s my favorite month and your favorite month. You are forever in October now, always on the back of the horse, riding in the mountains that are painted with colors as vibrant as you were.

I always suspected this would be the last anniversary I would write about your passing, always knew that three, being the number it is, was a salve that would ease the aches, a lucky charm that would change the grief to a celebration of the life you lived. Or maybe I believed that, somehow, it would mean you were coming back.

But you’ve actually been here all this time. I’ve seen you three times (coincidence? No. Magic.) in the universe where you exist, and while there are skeptics and critics that say we cannot see or hear or feel those who have passed on, I know what I saw. I heard what you said to me. I felt your presence.

“Dad, what are you doing here?”

“I’m just watching over you.”

But I haven’t really stopped writing about my grief. As with all experiences, good and bad, my past influences the words I put on the page. As writers do, of course. I have three books (there’s that number again) coming out soon, Dad, and I know I wouldn’t need a marketer if you were still here because you’d shout about it from Heber to every corner of the world.

In the second book of my series, my young heroine has watched her father go from young and healthy to nearly incapacitated by a sickness no one understands or can cure. Did I draw this scene from our last years of life together? Who’s to say. Writers are complicated artists.

I suppose I don’t really know if this is the last thing I’ll ever write about or for you, Dad, but these words will have to do for now; these words will have to serve as the story you never got to finish writing. These words are a gift to you. Happy three years of being cancer-free, Dad.

Dad and I walk through the Wildwood now, my arm tucked into his to support his body that is bowed like a rainbow from fighting against the wolf inside him. He can’t stop accidentally changing into a wolf. He is a captive caged not by four walls but by his own body. His homesickness.

People who ask about him are told he has cancer; in a way, it’s the truth. There is something inside of him eating away at his very essence. 

Dad’s eyes are still young; his smile is still roguish. But he is fading like the moonlight does when the sun, the mightier light, pushes its rays across the sky like an unwelcome savior from the darkness. He has become ash when he was once a bright, burning flame. My father, who aged, it seemed, overnight, holds out a shaking hand to me.

Dad wipes his other hand over his trembling lips. The movement, so weak and vulnerable, makes me close my eyes and push air into my lungs to prevent my chest from caving in. I lace Dad’s fingers with mine. We follow a path only I can see, now that I know to follow my heart rather than my eyes . . .

~from the forthcoming novel AnnaGrey and the Moon Throne published by Young Dragons Press. Copyright 2022 by Lindsay Flanagan.

10.18.19 to 10.18.21

This grief is a wide expanse that stretches from that last breath to this moment, to every moment I wish you were still here.

This grief keeps you close because it keeps the memories alive. It urges me to relate the stories to my girls, so you become a larger-than-life character in an epic tale that will grow with every retelling.

This grief is no longer a jagged-edge wound, but a silver scar that I’ve won and now wear like a medal.

Always with me.

10.18.19 to 10.18.20

10.18.19 to 9.18.21

This is the first year I helped with the hay field since you passed. I’m sure you had a good laugh at me struggling to lift the bales. 😆 I brought some of the hay to your grave, but I felt you more in the field than at the cemetery.

Is this really the last month when I can say you have only been gone a year instead of two? Will this be the year that I stop thinking, just for a moment, that you’ll call and tell me that, actually, you’ll be fine, you’ll be home to live instead of to die?

Because I dreamed about you last night, and I must have had these words I wrote a year ago in my subconscious, because we were at the pool hall. We were at the rodeo grounds, baseball fields, the mountains. The field.

So I guess it is true that there, you are still here, and we are still together.

10.18.19 to 9.18.21

10.18.19 to 10.18.20

Grief isn’t what I imagined it would be.

I knew I’d miss you, but missing someone and grieving for someone who is gone forever are two different things. I more than miss you; I’ve had moments where I am momentarily incapacitated by the knowledge that I will never be with you again in this life, not even one more time.

I’ve still got your number in my phone. I’ve still got voice messages that date back several years. But those are only echoes, ghosts of a past that I share with you, haunting the present. The future is filled with watching my daughters grow, fulfilling their dreams, maybe chasing a few more of my own, but there is a gaping hole in what lies ahead, because you don’t get to be part of it.

This year of grief hasn’t been enough time for me to get over the loss of you. But in that time, I’ve realized that I never will. And I don’t have to. Maybe it will feel more real when I don’t look the same as I did when you were here, when my daughters are grown and the only photos they have with you are of them as children.

But when everyone else has moved on, ceased to call, stopped going to the grave, I’ll still be here without you. Because to me, this isn’t just another death to cancer, one that was expected. It was the death of my dad. And even though I’m no longer a child, I’m still your child, and this hurt, this grief, is mine, and the love you gave me for thirty-eight years has to sustain me for the next thirty-eight, fifty, or however long I live without you.

Twelve months hasn’t been long enough to settle into this new reality, the one where you exist on a plane that is out of reach. It’s still incomprehensible that you won’t call me ten times in one day just to ask about Lily and Aislin, or that I can’t come and sit with you in your favorite room—that was hotter than hell because of the fires you liked to build in the stove—and laugh as you tell me your stories that were always embellished to the very edge of believability.

I have tried for 366 days—because 2020 is bad enough, it had to be a leap year—to write out this grief, to find the words to heal this wound. To come to terms with telling you that it was okay to go, that I’d be okay, to watch you take that last breath and try to reconcile my memories of you living with the one of you dying. I’ve tried to share glimpses of the life you lived, wishing you alone could read these vignettes of memory.

Maybe I will always be chasing the right words to heal. Or maybe they’ll continue to fall onto pages seen and unseen, in this space, or in my heart. But for now, Dad, I’m sorry I don’t have the right words. And maybe it’s best that I never find them, because there really is no getting over losing you. And maybe it’s okay if I refuse to believe that you’re really gone, and I can just continue to hold on and know that you’ve moved on.

And I’ll see you again on the other side.

Until then, I will live well, give my daughters a life that, when I pass, they will look back on with as much grief-love—because that is what grief is, love for someone who has passed on—as I do with you.

10.18.19 to 9.18.20

Tomorrow, it will be one year since the day you called me and said, “There is nothing more that they can do. I’m coming home, and I’m going to die.”

Home. I spent so much time running away from it, trying to tear myself free of these roots, vowing to only return when it had changed, that I didn’t realize that everything I loved about it was gradually fading into history. And now you, my anchor to this place, are the one who has left it for good.


But there are pieces of you here, fragments that, in the depths of my grief, carry me to the surface again.

The baseball diamonds you took me to, most memorably on the day you “kidnapped” me from the front porch and took me with you to watch the games. (You forgot to tell Mom, and she was going to kill you, but I was oblivious and just enjoyed hanging out with you.) Strawberry, where I used to ride out with you and Grandpa in your trucks to deliver oil, and you’d buy me “diamond” rings–the candy kind. The pool hall where you’d teach me how to cheat in cards and sit me up at the bar with an orange soda. The hay fields where I learned to drive. The mountains of this valley where, on the deer hunt, you’d reenact the Wild West.

A life I miss.

You truly belonged to what this place was before; you were part of a culture that is, in some ways, a thing of the past. And now, I want to do everything I can to keep you, your essence, alive in me. So let me shoot your guns. Let me farm the hay fields that were your life’s passion. Let me continue to carry your name that designates me as part of you, part of this. Part of place.

A place I never fit in, but the only place I belong. I couldn’t say goodbye to it again, because it would be like saying goodbye to you all over.


That last phone call from the drive home from that hospital on the hill began one of the longest months of my life, but it could never have been long enough. It could have–should have–gone on forever. Because how could anything take you away? Make you die? Like Lily said to me just the other day, you “were life.” And this place is where you lived it.

You came home to die; I returned home to live. Here, we’re still together.

10.18.19 to 8.18.20

IMG_2342If there is one thing you never were, it was at a loss for words. You always had something to say. Your voice would fill up an empty room, your words would create a tether in the silence of before and after. Sometimes you talked so much my head would spin, and I’d laugh at your ability to keep up a conversation about everything and nothing.

I’ve tried to remember the last thing you ever said to me. It could have been goodbye, or maybe it was “love you, too,” because I remember saying, “I’ll see you later” and “I love you” when we were last together. The next time I was with you, you were at an intersection of this world and the subsequent one. You were there, on the other side, overjoyed by the reunions of loved ones gone before, reveling in the deep relief of finally shedding cancer, of beating it. And you were here, waiting for us to be ready to let you go, probably asking if you were ready to let us go, too. Asking if you’d done enough—enough living, enough loving, enough forgiving, enough of asking for forgiveness.

I knew you were ready because you were, for once, unable to speak, while I couldn’t stop talking to you, trying to get the words out before it was too late. Wishes, laments, reminders. Requests for more time. Regrets for anger. 

But there were also the first words I said the moment I came to your bedside.

“I came to talk to you one more time.”

Although unconscious, you reached up and took my hand in yours.

I understand, Dad. It’s my turn for the words, and so this, this writing, is how I do it, how I grieve and heal and move on and live.

I know you’re listening.  

Birthday in Heaven

July 24, 2020

Happy birthday in heaven to our intelligent, kind, generous aunt. We lost her unexpectedly in December, 7 weeks after losing our dad. I’ll never forget that one of the last things she said to me was that she was honored to share my grief. That was Sherry—always there, supporting and sharing. Always loving.


Granted Heaven

A part of me wishes I could go back to this day, but that would mean going back through all the grief, pain, sorrow. And it would mean he’d still be sick and there would still be no cure.
So the better part of me is glad we’re on the other side of this—that he’s on the other side.
Because wherever that is, he’s better and he’s watching over us.
He gave cancer hell and was granted heaven in return.
It doesn’t ease the ache, though.
Dad gave cancer hell.jpg