This June will mark my first Father’s Day without my dad. I sometimes feel like I have been admitted to a secret club of those who mourn the loss of a parent. We see each other and give slight nods and meaningful looks to honor the losses we often can’t articulate. We shoulder our way through the difficult holidays together, squeezing our eyes shut and staying away from social media until they pass. It is cold comfort knowing there are people who understand.
My dad has been gone for nearly nine months and somehow my grief is more consuming now than it was in the immediate aftermath of his death. I find myself thinking constantly about what he would be doing right now if he were still alive. Any time my phone rings in the evening, I automatically think it is him calling. I stockpile questions I need to ask him as though he might return.
The rest of the world has moved on and I am left to face the terrible and unalterable reality that my dad won’t ever return.
The business of death kept me busy for months: Planning his funeral, writing his obituary, sorting through the things he left behind, completing all of the tasks required to legally declare that someone has departed this life. The longer I spent dealing in the business of death, the longer I could delay the inevitable reality that he was really gone.
Now that work is done—and the loss remains.
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There’s nothing left to keep me from facing the fact that the man who taught me to swim, the man who bought donuts and coffee on Saturday mornings, the man who took me to football games, the man who was there every single day of my life, is no more.
I know that I carry him in my heart and that I will tell my children about him and that his memory will live on, but the person is gone. I will never again hear his laugh or ask his advice or kiss his cheek and that feels so enormously heavy that I don’t know how I will carry it.
Before I knew grief intimately, as I do now, I thought it would be a terrible emptiness, a lack of feeling. I realize how laughably wrong I was in that assumption. Grief isn’t an emptiness at all—it is a weight you carry with you everywhere. Grief is the thing you are left with in place of the person you loved. The truth is my heart isn’t empty, but it is full of something I never hoped to hold.
Grief is with me each day, greeting me in the morning and wishing me goodnight and witnessing all of the moments in between. Sometimes it is quiet and watches from the corner, keeping a respectful distance. Other times it is loud and messy and impossible to ignore. I’ve seen grief look strangely beautiful as it approaches me on a quiet evening walk, and I’ve felt it shake me to my core when I didn’t give it its due attention. Oddly, I’ve never known a more loyal companion.
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The thing they warn you against is the same for any loss whether it be a death or a breakup or facing an addiction: Do not think about forever. Don’t think about all of the days and years ahead of you because that is so overwhelming it is impossible to handle. I know why they warn you not to think about forever; forever will break your heart in ways you didn’t know were possible.
I know it’s true the old adage “one day at a time” can see you through some dark times but I can’t stop thinking that if I live to be the age my dad was when he died, I will have to live 30 years without him. How is it possible that I could do that? How could I possibly survive three decades without him? This loss is still too raw for me to truly believe in the peace and acceptance those who have been members of this club longer than I have promise I will eventually find.
So this year, on the first Father’s Day of many without my dad, I will accept the slight nods and meaningful looks and stay away from social media. I will remember the things I loved most about him and honor this immeasurable loss in all the ways I know how. I will miss my dad more than words can express. I will sit hand in hand with grief.