Thoughts One Year Out From Losing My Dad
My father passed away unexpectedly a year ago today. I was 29 then. I’m 30 now. It wasn’t something I was prepared for although we realize now that on some level he must have known it was coming. The doctors said his organs had been shutting down for months and even if he had come in for help sooner there’s very little they could have done. That’s some comfort to both my brother and I who wondered if we had gotten him to go to the doctor sooner if it would have helped. You didn’t push my dad to do anything he didn’t want to do though. I think he knew what was going on, on some level, and wanted to deal with it in his on way on his own terms. And doctors and hospitals were not his own way.
My father and I were quite close in spite of the physical distance between us. I know some people think that the 2 to 3 hours between Boston and where my dad lived in New Hampshire isn’t that far but you have to understand to people in rural New England it is far. It’s a whole other world. I grew up and moved away not down the road. In spite of that I talked to my dad almost every day. He was the first person I called when I was excited or upset. I called him for advice all the time. I never asked for financial support since I hit the age of 18 but I did bend his ear an awful lot.
Something like this doesn’t happen without changing you.
You can’t go through your father’s personal items, letters, finances without feeling different. What was once off-limit now isn’t. You get to know your father as a more complete person. I didn’t make any earth-shattering discoveries but I have come to think of my dad as more of a whole other person than simply my father. And my heart just aches wishing my dad had had an easier life.
Things change a lot when the first person you always turned to is gone. In the past year, I was interviewing for new jobs. I used to always call my dad to get a pep talk right before an interview because no one was more in my corner than him. I couldn’t do that this time. I had to figure out other ways to pep myself up. (I wound up making a playlist on Spotify called #girlboss to pep up right before going in). I also got a new job that’s a wonderful step up in my field. I picked up my phone to call my dad only to suddenly realize I couldn’t. It’s other little things too like when our cat would do something cute and I’d take a picture only to realize I couldn’t send it to him. Or when I wanted to learn how to brine meat and realized I had to google it instead of calling him. It forced me to be more self-reliant, and honestly I already thought of myself as pretty damn self-reliant to begin with.
It also forces you to deal with your own mortality. I’m 30 now; my dad was 58. I know that was a young age to pass but it’s still a mind-fuck to think about how I’ve lived over half of my dad’s lifetime. And that changes you. I am far more selective of how I spend my time now both who it’s with and what I’m doing. I give people less chances than I once did. Not in a mean you’ll never change way but in a life is short and we’re not a good fit way. If I don’t want to spend my time watching a movie, I’ll tell you. And I also have confronted the fact that if I want to age well I need to change some things. I already worked out a lot and ate fairly well but there are other self-care things I wasn’t so good at. Managing stress. Sleeping enough. Moisturizing. I would say I was functional but not preservational. It’s improving. There’s room for more improvement. But life is too short for stress and bullshit.
I was going through my dad’s records this week, and I found an album I used to listen to with him all the time. Olivia Newton John’s “If You Love Me Let Me Know.” It was beat up, which if you don’t know records, that means it was most likely listened to a whole lot. I remembered so many of the songs so well. One is about a girl growing up rural who wants to move to the city, and when she gets old enough her dad tells her to go. It reminded me so much of when my dad encouraged me to follow my dreams and leave, even though it must have been hard for him to watch me go. Another was this one. I think it’s a great representation of that “the world’s going to hell in a handbasket but I’m not giving up my hope” mentality that I’ve learned over the course of the last year my dad had.
My dad had a hard life, and he sure as hell got frustrated with the world and all its bullshit. But he also undeniably had hope. You can’t have kids without having hope for the world. And he was so sure that both my brother and I would improve upon his lot in life (and we did, at least I think so). The only times he’d get frustrated with me were when I was either too full of myself or repeating his own mistakes. Well, daddy, I’m doing my best to learn from them and not do that. But I also am trying to hold onto the hope you had.