About two months after my dad passed away my mom, my sister, and I took a writing class called, Writing Stories of Loss: Healing Through Heart and Pen. The three of us enjoy writing and journaling so we really embraced the opportunity to explore our feelings through writing. We were also able to share what we wrote, which was difficult because my emotions were still fairly raw. Maybe even worse was listening as my mom and sister shared their stories. In fact, once we got going, I was afraid that we would alarm our classmates with our streams of tears. By the end of the day it seemed as if the four strangers we had met in the morning, five if you include the instructor, had become dear friends. If only for a few hours, we were blessed with a beautiful time of sharing and supporting one another.
Each of the writing assignments allowed us to consider our loss from a different perspective. After lunch we were asked to write about one of two topics: Neverness or A Transformative Moment. Neverness refers to the things we would never do or see or have as a result of our loss. Even now, thinking back to the moment when our instructor explained this assignment, my heart tightens. I wasn’t ready to focus on all the possibilities my dad took with him when he died. I wrote about a transformative moment -the moment I arrived at my parent’s house the night of my dad’s death. Sharing that story was cathartic to say the least. Since that day though, my mind has often wandered back to neverness. Can I even bear to think about it now? How about now? I think it’s time…
I will never again know the feeling of my dad’s beard scratching my face as he hugs me good-bye. I will never get to say good-bye. I will never get another hug from my dad. I will never reach for my dad’s freckled hand to give it a squeeze, noting how it has aged since my last touch, appreciating its strength, and remembering how it used to gently brush my hair and pull it back into a ponytail when I was a little girl. We had matching ponytails for a while and when he died, he again had a very long ponytail. When he started growing his hair out President Bush was in office (W). None of us were huge fans of his plan so he said he would cut his hair again when a Democrat took office. But he didn’t. He will never cut that ponytail.
I will never hear my dad say, “Anna Bandana!” or “Anna Bear!” when I call. He always acted so happy to hear from me, even if he had just left my house. He will never come to my house. He will never babysit my children in a pinch. He will never bounce any of my children on his knee, reciting “trot, trot to Boston, trot trot to Maine, trot trot to Boston and back home again!” He will never hold them close to read them a story. He will never sing them Near Ne Now. He will never hear my daughter, who was barely 2 years-old when he died, sing little songs to herself as she twirls around in circles, just like I did when I was little. He will never say, “Alexander T. Cornpone!” when he sees my son Alexander. My dad will never pull up in his pick-up truck to take my son James to his guitar lesson as he did every Thursday for two years before he died. He will never complain to James about the other drivers on the road all the way to and from the guitar lesson. They will never marvel as they count the numerous Land For Sale signs posted along the road by just one local realtor. They will never stop for candybars at the hardware store. They will never jam with James’s guitar teacher, Tim, or make the recording they had planned to make. My dad will never attend any of my children’s games or their school programs. He won’t see them graduate from high school or college. He won’t dance at their weddings. He will never take another vacation with us. My children will never make another memory with their Papaw. My daughter might not remember him at all.
I will never see my dad perform either alone or with his band. I’ll never hear him say, “Now it’s time to pause for a good cause” when it’s time for a bathroom break. He will never play Amazing Grace before Thanksgiving dinner. I will never stand there, worrying that the food is getting cold, trying to appreciate the beauty of the moment as all the people I love the most stand around one table together, listening to my dad sing one of the most moving songs on Earth. He will never eat the dark meat. He will never take leftovers home to enjoy later. He will never nod off on the sofa, then wake-up irritated, ready to go. He will never grow impatient with my mom as he waits for her to get out the door.
He will never bring tea to my mom in the morning or rub her feet at night. They will never watch another obscure movie together, then tell me about it afterward. Separately. He will never finish all the projects he started around the house or in his art class. We’ll never know what he planned to do with all the sheet metal he had gathered for his most recent sculpture. He will never tell me about his next project. He will never do another project. He will never clean out his shed or put his clothes away. He will never show up wearing a funny hat or a cool hat. He will never buy another t-shirt. He will never wear another t-shirt. He will never bring me a new book to read. He will never take one of my books home to read. He will never sit on the toilet reading The New Yorker. He will never sit on the toilet. He will never sit anywhere.
My dad will never exchange a knowing glance with my husband in the midst of the craziness that often swirls around my mom, my sister, and me. He will never tell me how proud he is of my husband or how proud he is of me. He will never look at me and say, “you’re so beautiful” as he did for as long as I can remember. He will never stare at my mom, when she isn’t looking, and tell me how beautiful she is or how much he loves her. He will never share another Jamesism, like he so loved to do. “Oh! I forgot to tell you. You’ll never guess what James said this time…” I’ll never hear him say “Far out.” I’ll never hear him laugh. I will never look over and see him wiping his eyes when he is moved to tears, which was often. He will never be there to rescue me when I need him. I will never again hear cheers or encouragement from my biggest fan. He will never defend me. I will never listen as he shares his wisdom or his unique outlook on life. He will never tell me about a story he just heard on NPR. I will never roll my eyes at one of his jokes. We will never talk politics, religion, or anything else that you aren’t supposed to talk about. We will never talk again in the way I’ve talked to him my whole life.
This feels like maybe it could go on forever. It’s breaking my heart! I will never see my dad in his body or feel his touch again. I don’t think it matters how old a person is when he dies, or how sick he was, or how whatever the case may be. For the record, my dad was young at 62 when he died and he was very healthy. But no matter what circumstances surround a loved one’s death, the absence of their physical presence creates a hole in our lives and in our hearts. I will never stop missing my dad’s presence. I will never stop wishing for just one more hug. That hole will never go away.
What I know now is that even in the absence of my dad’s body, he is with me. He is with my children. He is with my husband. He is with my mom. He is with my sister and with her family. He is with his friends. He is with all the guys from all of his bands, his buddies from work, and the people he knew from the art classes he was taking when he died. He is with his friend, the welding instructor, who was deeply saddened when he heard the news of my dad’s death. He is with Tim and James at each and every guitar lesson. He is with his lifelong friend, Ernest, who flew in from California to attend his funeral. My dad was there when some of the guys he has loved the most, guys from his band, played Amazing Grace at his funeral. And, he was probably wiping tears from his eyes, moved by their loving tribute to the man he was and the influence he had on their lives. What I know now is that my dad’s love continues to surround us. His Spirit lives on in and around all of the people he loved. Some of the things I thought I’d never share with my dad when he died, can still be shared. What I didn’t know then, on the night of his death or on the day of this class, is that even though he is gone, I will never truly lose my dad.