Friday, December 19, 2008

A Decade


It's been ten years since the worst day of my life. 

My dad died December 18, 1998. But, I didn't find out until 7:00 am Saturday morning, December 19. I remember that moment so vividly. It is interesting how time can slow down. It was my uncle Randy on the phone -- my uncle had never called me before -- and I knew, as he began to speak, that something was wrong. He got out the words "I'm afraid I have some bad news..." In a fraction of a second, my mind ran over the possible scenarios. My first thought was that something had happened to my grandmother, but even as that thought came, I immediately knew that if that was the case, this would be my dad on the phone. Then I knew. As he spoke the words, I was already speaking them to myself: "Your dad passed away last night." 

He wasn't sick and this was not expected. The blow was as though someone had fired a cannon ball through the middle of me. I felt hollow and cold. 

My dad and I had never had an adversarial relationship, but neither had we been close -- until the last five years of his life. My marriage in 1994, and the birth of my daughter in 1997 changed him. It changed us. We finally became close. I think it had something to do with having some girls in his life. He had only boys, but he thought of my wife, Sharon, as a daughter, and Jordan absolutely melted him. He LOVED being a grandpa. 

We had spoken on the phone three days before, and we talked as we had rarely talked before. We made plans for Christmas. He had rented a suit, and was looking forward to playing Santa for Jordan. He asked me why, growing up, my brother and I had never woken up my parents on Christmas morning before 7:00 am. I told him it was because we were told not to wake them up before 7:00 am. He said he used to lay there in the early darkness, and wonder why we were not coming in. It was a revealing conversation -- the kind of talk that was coming more and more frequently these days. 

Then came that damned phone call. 

We buried him on the 22nd, to try to put as much distance between Christmas and the grief as possible. That was a crystal clear, and arctic cold day. I was twenty-six, and this was the first funeral I had ever been to (at least that I recalled -- my older brother had passed away when I was two years old). I had to tell my little brother. The funeral service was so hard, I didn't think I would make it. What got me through were the dozens and dozens of my dad's friends who filed past -- some I knew, some I did not -- each of whom told me what a great man and a great friend he was. They told me the wonderful things he had done for them. I was touched beyond words. I hadn't always thought of my dad as a great man. 

I miss my dad terribly, and often when I look at my kids, it breaks my heart. He knew Jordan, but we were going to tell him that Sharon was pregnant with Matthew, for Christmas that year. Matt would have been his only grandson. And I suspect that Emma might have been his favorite of all. None of them know him. None of them remember him. That is the greatest source of pain for me. 

I was keeping a journal at the time, and the entry, on the day of the funeral, ends with the line "I don't know how I can heal from this." 

But I have. 

The anger and the debilitating sadness are gone. I wish he were still here, and I've thought about him every day for ten years, probably more than I thought of him during his lifetime. During the last conversation I had with my dad, he asked me if I could pick up a few presents for his wife, and he would pay me back. I got a letter in the mail from him, three days after his death. His handwriting was unmistakable. Inside was a letter saying thank you, and a check reimbursing me for the gift shopping. I hadn't intended to charge him, but I never got to tell him so. I never got to say goodbye. I never got to say I love you dad. 

This has affected me in many ways. I learned, as early as the funeral, that life goes on. After the dedication of the grave, we all met back at the church for a luncheon. Three days later it was Christmas. Both events were enjoyable experiences. At first, I felt guilty for being happy, but life is for the living. You have to move forward. I mourned and I cried (I still do), but the joy and love of my little family kept bringing me back from despair. You cannot prepare for a sudden death like this, and I've decided you shouldn't try. Take the gift that is each day of life, and embrace it. Make life meaningful, and love it. 

I believe my dad still lives. I dream about him. Two or three times a year, I have very vivid, lifelike dreams about him. Early on, in these dreams, he seemed very confused about what was going on. He seemed sickly, and distracted, and apologetic. We didn't talk much about what had happened, only that he was gone, and shouldn't be. We were face to face then. Over the years he has grown healthier looking, more at peace. We no longer face each other, but walk side by side. We talk about my kids, and my family. He seems proud. I always wanted to make my dad proud. 

 I have no idea if these dreams mean anything or not. But they mean something to me. 

I miss you and I love you dad. 

35 comments:

Mom24 said...

That's really beautiful. You did a great job expressing your relationship with your dad and showing a glimpse of who he was. I'm glad you had those few years when you were able to be closer.

You're very lucky that you lived to be 26 without attending a funeral.

I'm sorry that your dad's death happened at Christmas time. I know that can be extra hard. My brother died Jan. 6--Epiphany. I always feel it hanging heavily this time of year. It's funny how time does make it so much easier--but it can still hurt so much.

I envy you your dreams. I used to dream often, vividly of my brother, but he died 27 years ago when I was 15, and the dreams stopped a long time ago. I miss him.

Mom24 said...

Most of all, I forgot to say, I'm sorry for your loss. Obviously it was a great loss.

Alexandria said...

Oh Chris *big hugs* I'm crying for you right now. That was such a beautifully written but heart breaking entry. I wish I had words to put a smile on your face, but I don't. All I can offer is big cyber hugs.

Kat said...

What a beautiful tribute post to your dad. It gives me an enormous lump in my throat knowing that someday (most likely in the not too distant future) I will be without my dad. And I always wonder if my boys will even remember my dad the way he was.

What a blessing that you and your dad formed a relationship before his passing. Such a blessing.

I hope your heart finds comfort during this Christmas season.

Steph said...

Wow. I lost my sister 5 and a half years ago in a car accident. This post touched my heart deeply.
I'm sorry for your loss, and glad that you had a better relationship with your dad before he passed.

CaJoh said...

It's good that you still have a connection with your father through your dreams. It proves that they are never really gone.

Shamelessly Sassy said...

This was a beautiful post.

MamaGeek @ Works For Us said...

Chris, my heart aches and breaks for you. For whatever reason, December has always brought us much heartbreak as well so please know your Dad would love (LOVE) this beautiful tribute.

Holly at Tropic of Mom said...

I am so sorry to hear you lost your dad in that way. He is a lucky man even though he is gone to have a son like you who remembers him, thinks about him every day, and also thinks so highly of him. How fortunate that you became close before he died.

I know what you mean about feeling guilty for being happy. But it's good to hear your heart has healed some in the past 10 years.

Blessings to you....

Jonny's Mommy said...

what a beautiful post, yet what a horrible thing for you to have to go through. I can't imagine. I try not to imagine it. I"m so close to my dad....I don't want to think about it. But if I think about it in the ways you did and if I can handle it like you appear to have (I'm sure there were the bad days too, as you said there were), then maybe I'll be OK when the time comes. I hope it is very, very far away.

Very touching post.

Aaron said...

"Life is made up of meetings and partings, that is the way of it. I'm sure that we shall never forget Tiny Tim or this first parting that there was among us."

- Wise words from a Frog.

I don't dare speak for your Dad, but I am proud of you and think the world of you. I don't have words to describe the honors or accolades that belong to you on my behalf.

May Heaven, and those in its arms, smile upon you, your wife and your children throughout all time and eternity.

tommie said...

Chris, that was a beautiful tribute to your father. I am so sorry for your loss.

During my husband's deployment, I came to the realization that life is worth living and living fully. Those little bumps in life are just that.

Momisodes said...

This was beautiful. Simply beautiful. You have me in tears, but I thank you for sharing this. What a amazing glimpse of your relationship with your father and your journey in healing throughout the years. Life truly is precious. Thank you for the reminder.

Trisha said...

I can't even imagine how hard it would be to lose a parent, especially with no warning at all.
I have many wonderful memories of your dad. I even still have a stuffed bear that he gave me when I was in the hospital over 22 years ago.
Everyday spent with those we love truly is a gift.

Mon said...

I'm so glad to hear you found some years of closeness with him before he died, and that you have found peace within yourself over things about the relationship. It's tough.

Kacey R. said...

I'm so sorry that this is something that you expreienced. I am happy that you developed a closeness with your Dad and that you were and are able to appreciate every day as a gift. We should appreciate every second.

Tabby ~ Godzchyld said...

Once again you've touched my heart. This is such a beautiful and heartfelt tribute to your Dad. In July and October of this year we suddenly lost my Grandma, then my uncle. Although, I will celebrate the season I will also celebrate my time with them.

My Heart Is Full - as my Grams use to say when something touched her in a beautiful way. ♥

CC said...

This is such a beautiful and moving tribute. I felt like I got to know you and your dad a little bit through your account. Hugs!

SalGal said...

I'm sorry you lost your dad when you did. It's stories like these that make me glad I lost mine when I was seven. It's hard to miss what you don't really know (or remember).

AirmanMom said...

Beautiful post. Your dad was a lucky man... to call you son!

~AirmanMom returning to her blog...

Pam Emmons said...

You made me cry... i am reliving my moments this summer. What a beautiful tribute to your dad. I wish I had met him.
This is the first Christmas without my aunt or grandpa, and it's almost better that I am not there dealing with it. I am sorry that you have to relive it at this wonderful time of year.

Kellan said...

Oh, Chris, this was a beautiful tribute to your father and I know he looks down from Heaven and is very proud of the son he raised to be a very kind and loving man! I'm sorry for your loss - he died far too young.

Take care and I wish you and your family a Very Happy Holidays! Kellan

Mama Zen said...

What a beautiful tribute!

imbeingheldhostage said...

You always manage to catch me off guard and leaving me a blubbering mess in my computer room. Sometimes it's happy and sometimes it's poignant. What a beautiful post about your Dad.

Amanda D said...

This is beautifully written. A wonderful tribute to your dad. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Angeline said...

*hugs* I'm sorry girl...its hard, especially during such happy occasions, that your love ones are NOT around... *hugs*

Straight to Your Hart said...

I appreciate your careful and thoughtful words. I does not matter what we may know...it only helps us heal.

I am so sorry for the sadness that surrounded you at this time of year "A Decade" ago.

I am grateful for your resilience and strength as time has healed the dark hurt you once had. How proud he would be...as you walk with him.

God bless and have a wonderful Christmas...and Thank you!

avtcoach said...

Thank you Chris for sharing this very personal and meaningful tribute to your father. I am sure he would be so proud of the father you are. I love that you have those vivid dreams. I have never had one like that and I have always wondered what it would be like for it to be so real. I have really enjoyed your blog this year and look forward to many more posts in 2009. You have such a wonderful spirit!

Lady Fi said...

That's beautiful and poignant. Sad too. My husband's mother has just passed away too, and was buried last week.

But as you say, life has to go forward.

Jenners said...

That was beautiful and made me a little teary. I truly believe that people live on after death...I had a personal experience with dreaming of my grandmother on the night she died where she gave me a message that she hadn't been able to tell me in person so I have NO DOUBTS so I truly believe you have been able to continue your conversation with your dad and I'm glad it has become better over the years. Thanks for sharing.

Lindsay said...

That was beautiful. You know, a year ago'ish I lost my grandma. She was in her 90's. She had lived a full life. I was sad, but I didn't cry much. I haven't lost anyone close to me from an accident or sudden death - until two weeks ago when our dog was hit by a car. Now I know dogs aren't the same as humans, but you go through the same greiving process - feeling guilty for going on (happy) with your life. But you never do forget.

May you never forget your memories of "that" day - and the days prior - and may your children grow to understand the importance your dad had on you.

Krystyn said...

Your father sounds like a beautiful and wonderful man.

I hope part of your peace comes from knowing your father in resting in loving arms.

lisaschaos said...

I'm so sorry! My great-grandmother's birthday was Dec 18th 1902 and she died on my daughter's 10th birthday, May 18th 1996 - this year, that daughter gave birth to a girl on December 18th - so this date has always held a special meaning to me and does again.

Belle (from Life of a...) said...

Just came across your blog this afternoon...what a loving tribute to your dad's memory. I had a similar experience at the age of 19(am now 47)when I arrived home from a trip to the beach to a yard full of cars and my mother walking out on the front porch to tell me that my dad has passed away that afternoon. It's a feeling you never forget...

stefanie said...

So sorry. I'm sure your dad was very proud of you, even if he had a hard time expressing it. It's so good that you are writing now so that your kids will have that assurance of your pride and full acceptance of them.