When I was a teenager, my dad asked me to help him loosen a bolt from a pipe (my brothers weren’t home, so DIY assistance fell to me). My job was basically to provide resistance – to hold the pipe still as he used a massive wrench to loosen the bolt. Sounds easy, right? Nope… that bolt was stuck tight. I was holding the pipe as steady as I could but I wasn’t strong enough to counter his… wrenching. My dad looked at me with a rather exasperated expression and said, “Diane, just do it ‘til you fart.” Well, I burst out laughing and lost my grip on the pipe just as my dad gave it a good yank, and it shot up and damn-near broke my cheekbone.
That was my dad… he was a ‘do it ‘til you fart’ sort of person. Whatever he did, he gave it his all. And that included loving me. I could always trust that no matter how I failed; no matter what asinine thing I did; no matter what – he would love me; he would accept me (I know all parents are supposed to do that, but I also know that not all do). He was not a perfect man and sometimes he infuriated and confounded and even disappointed me, but he was still my hero. He taught me to think for myself – something I’m sure he kicked himself in the ass for at times, as from 15 on, I rarely agreed with him about anything… but I think, deep down, he was proud, too; proud that I stood up for what I thought was right, even if he thought I was wrong.
My father’s death was devastating. I knew it was coming, but knowing something and believing it are two different things. Knowing certainly didn’t make it easier to accept or handle. That I didn’t make it home in time compounded the difficulty. I was already so angry and hurt and lost and sad, but still, the part of me that likes to torture myself when I mess up had to throw some guilt on top of the emotional crap heap already smothering me. It didn’t matter that I knew in my head my dad understood why I wasn’t there; that he knew I loved him. My heart was ripped apart with grief and guilt, and it ruled my psyche for a long time after his death.
The day after he died, I sat down at his desk and started writing – logging memories frantically; terrified they would all disappear because I couldn’t see his face or hear his voice anymore. The unintentional result of my scribbling was my father’s eulogy. No one in my family thought I’d actually be able to deliver it. Hell, even I didn’t think so. I was a mess. But as I stood, all alone, in a little room next to the chapel at the funeral home, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace settle around me… in me. I believe it was my dad giving me what I needed at that moment… and I understood that it had to be me who spoke at his service; that no one else could say my words. Having me deliver the eulogy was what he would have wanted… and what I needed. It was my way to say good-bye; to honor my father in a way he would have loved. So I did it. I stood up in front of everyone, with dry eyes and a clear voice, and I told them about my hero; I showed them my dad through my eyes; through my words. I made them laugh… and cry… and I know I made him proud.
That was ten years ago. Lord, how time flies. It feels like his funeral was just last December. I didn't think I’d make it through that first year... and I’m not entirely sure how I did. It was likely because I had a new baby to take care of… and because I still felt my dad around me; I really believed he was still there. I was also sure it would get easier with time. I suppose it has. I don’t cry every day now… but I still cry. There’s still a hole in my heart… in my life… in my whole world… where my dad used to be, and time and my memories simply aren’t big enough to fill it. It gapes, wide and dark, and sometimes – the times when I want so desperately to tell him something or when I need to lean on him – that darkness just about swallows me whole.
And I don’t feel him anymore.
And that might be the worst thing of all.
I just miss him like hell.
June 26, 1937 – December 10, 1998