Two years ago, tomorrow, my dad died. At that time, I felt relief. He had been so very…it was all the things. He was uncomfortable, depressed, held back from the man he was. It was hard for him to even talk and be understood. He had a hard time hearing. He had a hard time doing anything other than listening to music, reading, and watching tv. Which sounds like an amazing life when you’re 14. But when you had been who he had, it was torture.
Maybe I should start by explaining who he was–
My dad was a fighter pilot. His stories were kind of crazy, so even though I believe him, they seem like the stories of Santa. Because the dad I mostly knew was post-stroke Dad. Pre-stroke Dad was a Colonel in the Air National Guard. He worked as a manager of pilots at Horizon Airlines. He played racquetball and served in our church. He was busy and always moving. He was like Alexander Hamilton in the musical–he never stopped. Even vacations were insane. They were these epic crash courses of everything. It was the redwoods, Disney, San Diego, Vegas…all in 9 days of madness.
But I was only 17 when Dad had a stroke. A person is pretty unaware and self-absorbed when they’re that young. So I didn’t know him well, and my memories are flashes of who he was.
Post-stroke Dad was something totally different. I think the only way Dad could have slowed down was with something like a stroke. Otherwise, he’d have run and run and run until he died. But post-stroke Dad had to counsel you because he couldn’t do things for you. He tried, my goodness, he tried. He drove again, he walked again. He had the kind of stroke that made doctors marvel that he lived. So doing those things again were BIG deals.
Post-stroke Dad slowed down because he had to. And in slowing down, you saw so much more of his tenderness, of his goodness, of his kindness. He’d hold your hand. He’d sit next to your bed. He tried. He contributed. He made you feel adored. He had to show his love in a different way. Pre-stroke Dad showed his love by working his butt off for you. Post-stroke Dad showed his love in time, in wanting to be with you. He showed it when you went for drives or he dreamed with you and for you.
I was lucky enough for him to live next door and I often went over and got him and made him come and talk with me. I miss that so much.
When he died, I was relieved for him. Because I believe in an after-life, it was as if I was saying goodbye for a little while. Now that he’s been gone for two years, though, the grief hits me sideways. It catches me unaware and leaves me inexplicably sad over a bowl of tomato soup. Ir makes me leave the peanut butter cups in the Halloween candy behind.
I have fallen in love with the Hamilton musical. If he were alive, I’d call him and ask him how much of the musical is historically accurate–because Dad would know. If he were alive, I would be able to introduce my kids to him. Here’s the thing…he died when he needed to. But it was TOO SOON. It was too soon because he didn’t get to meet my sons or my youngest daughter. Because my oldest daughter was the “peanut” then and she couldn’t talk. He would have been delighted with her sassiness. He’d have fed her sweet tooth unapologetically. He’d tell my oldest stories and listen to his stories. Dad would counsel me to patience with my youngest. He’d have adored my snuggle younger daughter. He’d have fed her love for her babies and wanted nothing more than to sit with my kids, eat popcorn and candy, and watch Frozen 7000 times.
So, even though it was time, it was too, too soon. And I want him back. I want to hear his voice and tell him my worries and learn from his wisdom. I want him to meet my children and love them with me. I want him to be next door and go over and get him to watch a marathon of his favorite cartoons with my kids.
This week, we’re making yellow cake with chocolate frosting and finding some Rocky and Bullwinkle. We’re having Grandpa Day. It won’t ever stop being too soon, and I won’t ever stop missing him, and this week, the grief won’t be sideways. It’s right there, next to me, reminding me of how blessed I am to call him Father.
I miss you, Dad.