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.

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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.
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10.18.19 to 7.18.20

IMG_4620There are things I’m glad you’re missing. The pandemic, of course, because we wouldn’t get to see you, anyway, for fear of spreading the virus to you. But the other night, I was mostly glad you weren’t here to see fire burning up the mountains you grew up on, rode horses on, lived by, loved. The mountains that were your home.

When I was at the house where you and Carolyn had built a life on the night of the Big Hollow Fire, all I could think of–other than making sure she got out okay–was you. How you would have been the first one to help others out, and you would have been the last one to leave because you’d want to make sure everyone else was safe.

How you wouldn’t have had to chase a horse down to take her away from the flames—you would have been able to catch her (but you would have done it with as many swear words as I used trying to chase her down—I’m sure you’re proud). And about how if I didn’t save the saddles you, Brooke, and I rode on, they would be gone.

Like you.

The fire is on its way to being contained, the house you lived in and loved with Carolyn is safe, the trailer you camped in is at your brother’s. All is safe.

But you’re still gone.

I can hear you asking me why I saved the saddles. You’re glad I did, but why? We don’t use them anymore. Why did I drag them out of the dirty trailer in the muddy field while wearing my shorts, my ballet flats, my city-girl outfit?

Because somewhere deep inside of the fundamental core of who I am, there’s a solid foundation of being the daughter of a man who taught by example to work hard, help others, and cherish what matters.

But mostly, it’s because if I hold on tight to the saddle (or keep my ass in the saddle, which was your way of saying it), I won’t fall off. I can keep hanging on.

Happy Father’s Day in Heaven

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I dreamed about you last night. We were somewhere—some place in my memories, the location undefinable. But you were loud, laughing, causing trouble. 🤣 Playing jokes, teasing, smiling. Healthy.

Last Father’s Day, you came over and played baseball with the grandkids. We took family photos and had a barbecue at my house. We knew it was the last, and maybe that’s why it stands out as the best.

Happy Father’s Day in Heaven, Dad.