Today is my birthday. Today is also the last day of any significance to me before the 1 yr anniversary of my dad’s passing. Today is the last of the firsts.
In just a few short days I will mark the 1 yr anniversary of losing my dad to lung cancer. September 2nd has been this date, looming in the distance, comfortably out of my grasp and yet, suddenly, it is upon me with all the weight and pain of a million stones crushing my heart.
The first Halloween without my dad. Although we weren’t always together on Halloween, it marked the first time there was no phone chat about what the kids would wear and how much candy they would bring home. The first time he wasn’t there to remind me to be safe and keep an eye on the kids, as if my overbearing parenting style would suddenly laps while we went trick or treating. The first time there was no Papa to call and tell about our pumpkin carving and failed attempts at toasting pumpkin seeds. The first time we had no house to stop at, on our way home from apple picking, to delivery an arm load of beautiful apples and a bag of freshly made donuts. Thus ended the first of the firsts.
Thanksgiving was upon us before we knew it. Although it was the “best Thanksgiving ever” to some, it was just another painful reminder of a lifetime of holidays without him. We were intentionally left uninvited to celebrate the holiday with my sisters and their families so we stayed home and celebrated together. Dinner was nice and relaxed and the day ended quickly and quietly with me crying myself to sleep wrapped tightly in my husbands arms.
Christmas Eve was always the night my dad would come over and we would exchange gifts. We had done this every year since my dad and I first left home when I was 17. By the time I was 18, and had my own place, it became one of the happiest nights of my year. He would come over and we would sit on the couch eating dinner, talking and laughing. My God he had an amazing sense of humor! Warped and twisted in all the right places, his sense of humor meshed with mine in a way that often left us doubled over in laughter. I remember him fondly every time one of my kids tosses out a one liner that would have brought him to his knees. This Christmas Eve we went to church, came home and called it a night. My little men anxious to get to sleep and wake to find Christmas Day upon them, me, just anxious to get to sleep and know that tomorrow would be less sad. Christmas Day was usually greeted with little more than a phone call and a thanks for last night and with 5 little ones and a house full of Christmas fare I hardly noticed it’s absence.
New Years Eve was fairly easy to take, pausing only to remember watching the “Ultimate Fighting” matches on his living room floor and lifting a drink to toast a man who had defeated alcoholism and had remained sober for the last 25+ years of his life. The irony of toasting a recovering alcoholic was never lost on me, but, dad always saw the humor in it!
Easter came and went without my dad grazing at my poorly laid dinner table. The ham would be picked at over the hours, as would the pies and other desserts, and although he usually turned down my attempts to get him to take a plate home with him he almost always wound up leaving with enough food to get him through a day or two. If I ever made that man a meal that he didn’t love, I would never have known it. He was always grateful to come and eat with us, taking the time to tell me that everything was delicious and that I was a good cook. I often wondered if it was really that my food was so good or that he just missed having someone cook for him. I loved “accidentally” making too much food every now and then so I would have an excuse to stop by with a pot of chili or pasta, some homemade bread and cookies or other treats the kids had helped me make. This Easter came and went and my heart broke as I sat on the sidelines and wondered how the world could move on so quickly from the loss of this awesome man. I ate a handful of black jelly beans and for a minute I was 10 yrs old again sitting next to my dad laughing at his jelly bean blackened teeth. I missed him so much.
There was no phone call from my dad on Mother’s Day this year. I never really liked that holiday anyway. There was no one to call on Father’s Day this year. He never cared much for that holiday either. Surprisingly, Father’s Day wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be. Every day was Father’s Day for me. When he died, there was nothing left unspoken. What an amazing gift I was given to have a father who was as much parent as he was friend. We had our rough spots, don’t get me wrong, but when the day ended we said what needed to be said and moved on. It was beautiful. This Father’s Day I hugged by husband tight and hoped that he would have the same relationship with our boys as I had with my dad.
The 4th of July was wonderful. Great fireworks, good food and lots of family made for a nice evening and a welcome chance to just … be. I remembered back to all the years that he put on a fireworks show in our drive way and how amazing it all seemed to me then. My husband and I laughed as we remembered lighting the telephone pole in my dad’s yard on fire with a firework that didn’t work out as planned. It was a good day. Besides, The 4th was more my mom’s holiday than my dad’s in my eyes, and I would have never wanted to take that away from her.
There were other days as well. The little things, the less celebrated holidays, that made me stop in my tracks as I picked up the phone to call him and there was no one to call. No phone call on Valentine’s Day to tell me he loved me, no calls to my kids on their birthday’s – even though I usually had to call to remind him first and there was no Earth Day chat about his desire to cut down a virgin redwood or eat a spotted owl for dinner. There was no dad to attend Veteran’s Day service with and no one to call on Memorial Day. There was nothing but this empty space.
There is, in my mind, no first anniversary of his death. In the last year he has died a thousand times in my thoughts, my memories, my dreams. The actual date may break my heart, but, he was ready to go. He was ready to be free of his pain, his suffering, his lingering… I was ready to let him go as well. No one should ever have to live like that. So although that date may break my heart I think the following three hundred and sixty-some days broke it more.
So, it brings me back to today – my birthday. This is the first year, in my life, that there will be no birthday card. There will be no hug, no smile, nothing… and when the clock strikes midnight, there will be no more firsts. There will only be this space that you are caught in when things still feel like the present but are officially the past. When your pain still feels so raw, but, life has officially moved on. It’s like so many things in life – if you can make it through the first year, you just might make it after all. The first year in a new relationship, the first year of parenting, the first year in a new home, new city, new job… the first year is always the toughest.
So, today, I draw to a close the long line of firsts. Instead, I will hold on to that one last first, far off in the distance… the first time I see him again.
I love you dad. Thank you for making me the woman I am. Please keep loving me until I see you again. Forever, Your Bunky…….