Today marks the 36th anniversary of my father’s death. I was not quite 2 ½ years old when he passed and now that I have a child of my own, who turns 2 this month, this loss has a whole new meaning. I now have a visual of just how young I was when he died.
I’ve always felt this loss tremendously. Even after so much time has passed. The hurt doesn’t just go away or decrease over the years. There are little reminders of what could have been on a regular basis. It’s become my norm, but it doesn’t mean I’m used to it.
There are of course the big moments you might think of – my high school or college graduation, my wedding, the birth of my child. But there are also birthdays – his, mine, my mother’s, my child’s – where I feel the weight of the loss as well. And this day, the day of his death, sneaks up on me every year. And I mourn him. And then, just two weeks later, Father’s Day comes around…and I mourn him again.
I see pictures of my friends with their Dads and I think of what could have been. I hear someone say “My Dad this” or “My Dad that” and I wonder what this or that my Dad might have done if he hadn’t been robbed of life at just 34 years old. When I was younger, 34 seemed much older than it actually does once you reach that age. At 34, a new chapter of my life had just begun. I’d gotten married just a few months prior and was wondering if we should have children of our own. In fact, my husband and I got married on Father’s Day. And our first dance was to my Dad’s favorite song.
These past two years watching my son with his own father, I feel the pangs of loss on a regular basis. I feel sorry for the little girl who didn’t even get a few years’ worth of tickles and hugs and kisses and fits of giggles with her Dad. And for my brother, who I know felt the loss even more than I, because there is a special bond that exists between a father and his son, and he was old enough to actually remember what we lost.
But even more than that, I think of my mother. And my heart aches for her. I’ve been lucky enough to find true love in my husband, so I know how significant losing him would be to me. So I now have a better sense of what that must have been like for her. To not only lose her partner in life, but to somehow manage to go on because of us. She didn’t have someone to help her with the dishes, or the laundry, or meal prep. She didn’t have someone to split daycare drop off and pick up. Nor did she have someone to help share the expense. She had to do it all. On her own. And that’s not what she thought she would be doing when she started a family with someone else.
My mother is the strongest woman I know. She’s lost her husband, her parents, her best friend and countless others. Yet she never let it break her. She just kept on doing whatever it was that needed to be done. She worked 60 hours a week, yet made it to every football game, musical and orchestra concert. She signed me up for dance classes and tee ball and piano lessons and made sure we had everything all the other kids had, except of course, a Dad. She encouraged us to try new things. She made sure we traveled. Whether it was a weekend in the Dells or a road trip to South Dakota, she made sure we lived our life, even absent of our father.
She taught us strong work ethic. She tried to keep us out of trouble. She did everything a parent is supposed to do and she always had to do it for two.
To the single mamas raising babies on your own, I see you. I understand. You are doing all you can. Keep on keeping on. Your kids see it. And even if they don’t get it right now, they will one day.
And to the other members of this club none of us wants to be a part of…I see you too. And I understand. I know what this sort of loss does to you – even if you were too young to really even get to know your Dad.
For anyone who has ever lost someone significant like a parent or a spouse, you know that the grief comes and goes. Sometimes you expect it, because of a certain day or event. And sometimes you don’t. Something someone says or does, or something you see or hear flips the trigger. When it comes, just be with it for awhile and do what you need to do to get through it. Even though they are gone, they are a part of who you are. And they were so very special.
To all of the parents reading this, I know you’ve heard it all before, but for real…hug your children tighter and make as many memories as you can – not just for you, but for them. Because we really never know what tomorrow holds.
We all know what it means to be a mother and the role we play in our families. But Dads are so incredibly important as well. So, if you still have yours, tell him how much you appreciate him and the time you’ve spent together. Thank him for all he’s done for you. And if your husband or baby’s daddy is a strong presence in your child’s life – do something to acknowledge how much that means to you and your children. Because to them, it really does mean the world.