My dad has been gone for 10 years. That seems like such a long time for something that feels like it just happened yesterday. I’ve been thinking for the last year or so that I should put some thoughts down around this milestone but when it finally got here I just didn’t feel it. Part of it might have been that I had to travel on the exact day, October 19th. Normally, I’d spend most of the day on my bike, thinking about him but this year I spent the day in airports and airplanes … still thinking about him. The truth is I think about him a lot. That may sound sad but it isn’t. It is uplifting actually. I’m thankful that I had a dad like him, thankful I had 37 years to know him and thankful for the time we had to say goodbye. I realize how fortunate I am to have had those things and that time. I’ve come to understand that my relationship with my dad didn’t stop the day he died. It took a while to see it that way but it’s true.
This will sound odd but I could not have imagined how deeply the untimely death of my father would affect me. Most people will agree before such an event that they expect it to be difficult and life changing but the profound shift in my being is still difficult to comprehend ten years on. My mother, my sister and I were with him until his last breath and those moments seemed unbearable as they unfolded. I relived it for months and for the first few years, the emotion tied to it was so strong I found it hard to keep my own emotions in check throughout the day as my mind continually returned to him. The first few dreams I had of him after his death remain the most vivid, emotionally gut-wrenching experiences I’ve ever had. As impactful as losing him in the first place, as if he was reaching out to try to tell me everything would be ok but in a torrent of energy I couldn’t possibly control. All I could do was weep uncontrollably. Awful, right? Well, for a while it was but then it wasn’t.
I’m not exactly sure when it began to change but sometime, a few years on, I realized that my thoughts about him weren’t really sad at all. Sure, I missed him but only physically. There was still conversation. There was still advice. There was even still laughter and happiness. I knew him my whole life so it isn’t like I don’t know exactly what he’d say in most any situation and, whether I’m making it up or not, in my head I hear him all the time. At some point, those thoughts became just me and my dad carrying on like we always had. I feel nods of approval, nudges sometimes when I need it and reassurance at times when maybe only he could know how I feel. It’s sort of like social media. I haven’t seen him in a decade but he comments on my posts, likes my pictures and I still share things with him but the app is in my head, written in memories. He was a positive person, perhaps the most optimistic person I’ve yet to meet. I’m sure he had moments when the world got to him but he always looked forward, always smiled, always believed better things were on the horizon. How could I go around the rest of my life all down about losing a guy like that? Of course it sucks that my dad died at 59 years old but it would suck more if I lost the message of his entire life and wallowed around in sadness and self-pity for the rest of mine. So, maybe that’s why I don’t. I think I can’t do that. I think I have to be thankful for having a great dad, a great friend and I have to be thankful by carrying on and being happy and trying my best to be a good father, husband and friend.
So why say all this? Maybe it’s my way to express the old “time heals all wounds” thing but it’s better than just wounds healing. It’s also that the scars that remain aren’t all bad either. Death is one event and I’m grateful that one event hasn’t completely obscured the 59 years of his life for me. Maybe I’m putting this out there to acknowledge that there are some things I need to do better to really live up to the attitude I described above. He’d be disappointed that I don’t see my mom and my sister more. He’d be upset that I have almost nothing to do with his brothers and sisters and that I hung on to some old animosity longer (at all) than I should have. Maybe I’m just not as far along the path as I’d like to be but I’m getting there and I hope this helps others do the same, especially others close to me like my kids, my wife and certainly my mother and my sister. I’m sure it’s been hardest for my mom. She knew him since they were little kids. There are certain reminders most powerful to me and my sister. We get to catch those glimpses of him in ourselves in the mirror and hear his inflection in our voices that put him right back in the room with us. But even those things are now almost exclusively joyful for me and hopefully, others can see that and feel that way too around their own losses. I wish my kids had more time with my dad but they had some time and they remember. We talk about him. I talk about him. Most of my friends know more about him than they probably care to know because I rarely pass up an opportunity to share a line, a quote or a piece of advice from my dad. It’s not always easy, sometimes I just want to hug my dad, but it’s not always hard either and that’s important to remember and worth sharing.
So yeah, I miss him but he’s still alive in me and in our family and he’ll continue to be a part of our lives. He wants us to be happy, joyful, optimistic and he wants us to live. This life, our lives didn’t stop the day his did and he certainly wouldn’t want us to waste a moment in sorrow. He would want us … he wants us to live, to love and to be happy. So for Ronnie, for Big R, for Giddy, for dad and for each other, let’s do that.