Dear Dad

Dear Dad,

Well, tomorrow it will have been one year since you left us. In some ways it seems like the year passed by quickly, and yet at the same time it feels like an eternity since I saw you last. It’s funny how time does that. Since you died on a Thursday, today seems more like the anniversary of your death. It’s dreary outside. The snow is melting, leaving patches of ice and puddles of muddy water in its place. It’s been rainy. The air holds the promise of Spring, but it still looks and feels like winter outside. We’ve changed things up a bit. James and Dan go to Milford Music together for guitar and piano on Tuesdays now. I’m so thankful for that. It would be hellish to spend the entire day comparing the similarities of March 11th last year to March 11th this year. I can see myself recalling your image in the door around 5:30 as you hustle James out the door to his lesson. I could torture myself, again, remembering our last hug. I might even go downstairs to run on the treadmill, trying to recreate the whoosh of energy that came over me around 8:30 p.m., the time I feel sure that you died. I may have even drug the kids out of bed late at night to ride to your house in the rain, to find mom in the backyard with you. Our lives were so drastically changed that night. Her life with you by her side ended in just an instant. So, wow, despite the changes we’ve made in an effort not to spend every Thursday night in the same routine, remembering the details of the night you died, everything that happened a year ago is still so fresh in my head.

I’m scared Dad. I feel like I’ve been living in a protective shelter this year. I’m wrapped in a bubble that says I’m grieving and I’m fragile, so be gentle with me because I might break at any minute. What happens when the bubble pops? Do I really have a breaking point? Or will I rise to the occasion? I never thought I’d lose you or Mom before you had the chance to watch my children grow. But now I know that death does not discriminate. It touches all of us at one time in some way or another. It hit me hard this time. I’m much more sensitive to the fact that it will hit me again. Sometimes I even catch myself holding my breath, fearful of what lies ahead.

Throughout this year, the unpredictability of how I will feel from one minute to the next has been a challenge for me. Other than that, it is feeling so vulnerable that troubles me. I feel so raw, so exposed sometimes. I am learning that I can be strong and vulnerable at the same time. Who knew? I am learning to accept whatever it is I feel as it passes through me. I don’t hold on so tightly anymore, Dad. I am learning to let things go.

I’m sure you’ve heard that we’re having a Memorial Service for you on Saturday. From what I understand, it can get very busy over there on the Other Side. I wanted to make sure to mention the service now so that you can attend. Will you give us a sign that you are there with us? Let me know what it is and I will look out for it. I’m hoping we can have the service on the beach. I know you’ve always had a thing for powerful women so I’m sure you’re all cozy with Mother Nature now. Maybe you can pull a few strings and get us some sunshine?

I still think about how much I would have loved to say good-bye to you, Dad. I know in my head that you left us knowing you were loved and I know you are feeling our pain as we miss you. My heart still aches for that one last anything though. A hug, a cup of coffee at my table, a holiday together. I know you live on in our hearts and I know you can watch my children grow, but how can I be sure they will know you?

I’ve been listening to your music a lot lately. I am so grateful for your voice, Dad. Couldn’t you have thrown in an “Anna” every once in a while though? We have some of your recording sessions on CD now. Mom copied them for us. I’m beginning to label them with things like “Dad’s laugh” and “Dad breathing.” Maybe that is morbid in some way, but I just don’t want to forget those sounds. Your voice is part of me now, Dad. Thank you for leaving behind the tools I’ll need to make sure my children know you. They say the funniest things like, “Papaw is already dead! Why do we have to have a party for him?” That was Alexander. All the way to school the other day he and Sophia talked about how dead you are. Last night I heard Alexander saying to James, “we all miss Papaw, especially Mommy.” I hope I’m not traumatizing them with my tears!

Someone asked me if I was okay yesterday. It took me two hours to answer because I didn’t know what to say (the question came via text so I could take my time, even Mom is texting now!). I am okay Dad. I guess I’m holding on to the possibility that I’m not okay, just in case I crack or something… But the truth is, I am okay. I am okay and I am a wreck. I know you are with me and I miss you desperately. I want to celebrate making it to this milestone because everyone said the first year without you would be the hardest, but I dread it too because the hard part is all I know now and I’m afraid of what’s to come. I know you know this, Dad, but I have to say it: If I’m okay and if I move forward, like I feel myself being pulled to do, it doesn’t mean I love you any less or I miss you any less. I think I can let my grief go, gradually, without letting you go. I can hear you now. You’re nodding your head with your sweet loving smile and you’re saying, “Far out, Anna. That is far out.”

Well, I better go pack the car now. And, well, pack my bag?!

Take care Dad! I will look forward to having you with us on Saturday.

I love you!
xoxo Love,

Progress Makes Perfect

As I grieve the loss of my dad, one challenge I’ve faced is the unpredictability of the grieving process. One minute I’m walking along in the sunshine, feeling great, and suddenly something unexpected will move me to tears. In the beginning, these surprises would feel like daggers through my heart. As time passes, I feel stronger and the grief is not as raw as it was initially. I think I’ve finally accepted that my dad isn’t coming back (a downside to watching way too many soap operas in my life is the expectation that people really do rise from the dead. I guess that only happens when they are buried alive – ala Marlena in Days of Our Lives). I am still so sad and I miss him, but now when I see a picture of him, I am starting to feel more and more grateful for having had a dad worth missing instead of wanting to crawl back into bed for the day.

I have been frustrated along the way too. Anytime I felt like I was making “progress,” these unanticipated pangs of grief felt like setbacks. Almost like I was failing at grief. A lot of people say that grief comes in waves and that makes sense to me too. Now that I’ve been at this for a while, the waves don’t catch me off guard. I’ve also heard that the grieving process is like climbing a spiral staircase, as opposed to traveling a straight line. You move up a few steps, and you might fall down a few the next day, up and down you go. I’ve come to accept the spiral as I have the waves. At least I thought so.

My husband and I spent the afternoon with my mom at my parents’ house. My dad had a lot of interests. And he had a collection to go with each one. Guitars, music, amps and so on for the musician in him, and he was a great musician. Woodcarving and sculpting tools for the artist in him. Hundreds of books to satisfy his appetite for learning. Tools and duct tape for the handyman and the list goes on. I think you get the picture. And now we have to figure out what to do with it all.

But here’s the catch, every tool, big or small, each and every book, and just about every stitch of clothing was touched by him. Some of it was loved by him. Some threads worn thin by him. And while I feel fairly confident that our loved ones live on inside us and around us once they pass, the desperate ache to spend just one more minute with the physical being that once embodied that love who was my dad, is enough to break my heart. Again and again. So as I tried to help my mom pack some of my dad’s clothes in a Rubbermaid tote today, I cried and cried. I wanted to wrap his corduroys around my neck like a scarf and curl up in the fetal position on the floor. The thought that his long, thin feet would never fill a warm woolly sock again was almost too much to bear.

It gets worse. It’s not just losing my dad that makes this process so tricky, it’s watching my mom experience the loss of her husband and my sister struggle with the loss of her dad (she is my baby sister after all), and, please pass the tissues, seeing my children trying to grasp the reality that their Papaw will never hold them on his lap again. They aren’t even old enough to truly understand what they’re missing. Ugh.

Here I sat a few days ago, thinking it was time to start sharing my story, or at least sorting it all out in a way that feels right to me, and I wonder, am I really ready for this? Waves, spirals, tears, all things considered, I guess I am. And that, for me, is true progress!