It felt like the world stopped spinning the day my father died. It was 4:51 a.m. on a cool summer morning at just that moment when the bottomless black of night begins to brighten – the time when spirits, if they are there, seem close by.
The family had gathered days before yet my dad was hanging on, unwilling to say goodbye. During my shift that night his suffering was unbearable, so I leaned in, as I held his hand, to whisper that it was OK to let go.
I kissed him a last time with such tenderness the tears burned as they fell. A short while later I realized in the sudden silence that he was gone. Then, filled with panic at such finality, I fought back the urge to beg him to return.
You would think that after 17 years it would get easier, but sometimes I’m still at loose ends. Life changes so abruptly when a parent dies, no matter how old you are, and many families fall apart.
Our relationship could be difficult, being two faces of the same coin, as they say. But “A Good Man” was etched on his gravestone for a reason. In the end, loving fully and being loved is all that matters.
My memories these days seem to ebb and flow with the seasons as I raise kids of my own. My dad’s stamp is on everything I love, from fresh cut grass to burning leaves. I feel close to him under big starry skies and when I see people with ice cream cones. I imitate his exuberance when I win at sports or cards and jump and dance with abandon.
Father’s Day is a lovely time to salute the dads of the world, but for me it is also a bit of a struggle. I’m happy to help the kids celebrate my husband. But in my mind, it is about my dad, and a time when I was a girl who still had parents.
Joni Mitchell was right when she said you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. But short of getting the time back, which of course you can’t, I’m finding that the memories – bittersweet as they are — help keep such precious times alive.