I lost my dad last year.
He was the rock in my life that I took for granted; not realizing the true weight of his presence until he was gone.
His death was surreal. I can still feel the plastic of the ICU waiting room chairs as the trauma surgeon began to say words that I couldn’t process. The phrases ricocheted in my head, as my mind refused to accept the grisly truth. The bullet had torn his abdominal aorta. The team did everything they could, but the blood loss was too great.
He was gone. No warning. No chance to say goodbye.
The year that he died, I felt like I was stumbling through a numbing fog that would be randomly interrupted with intense raw painful sorrow. My grief was like a wound, ripped open repeatedly by the most random memories. This year the fog is lifting. The wounds are still aching, but slowing healing as I begin to come to grips with the reality that this is the new normal of my life.
There are a million things I miss about him, like the way he greeted me as “Daughter” in a mockingly formal clipped tone with a half smirk and a side hug. I miss his almost daily phone calls, “just to check in”. My heart hurts when I think of all the times I swiped “ignore” on his calls because I was in the middle of something. I told myself I would call him later, but often never quite got around to it.
I have found comfort in his memories and meaning in the lessons I learned from him through the years. My parents were divorced so I lived mostly with my mom (and wonderful stepdad) growing up, but was extremely fortunate to spend the last 10 years living in Tennessee near my dad. He and I were always connected, but I’m so thankful that he was able to have to a close special relationship with his grand kids these last 10 years as well. In honor of father’s day I wanted to share some of the lessons learned over the years from my no where near perfect, but pretty wonderful dad.
1. Birthdays are special
I was raised in family where birthdays were a pretty big deal. Everyone gets to feel special on their birthday. I assumed all families were this way until I got married and my husband found it strange that all of my extended family sent him birthday cards.
My dad used to call me crazy early on my birthday. He said he wanted to be the first one to wish me “Happy Birthday”, but really he was just being ornery. He did this to everyone in the family. On HIS birthday, he also called me obnoxiously early so I could get “The privilege of being the first to wish him a Happy Birthday”.
Everyone in our family, not only felt the pain of his loss on his birthday, but we all missed that brief dependable 6 am call on our own birthdays as well. On my husband’s birthday last fall, he mentioned sadly as we headed to bed that he didn’t get any phone calls to wish him happy birthday. Sure there were texts, cards and Facebook messages, but that special early morning old school phone call was painfully missing.
2. Lonesome Dove is the best
My dad was a true cowboy and he was obsessed with all things horse related. He had a rule that he would only watch a movie if it has horses in it and the mini series Lonesome Dove was his legendary favorite.
He knew the story word for word and could quote every clever Augustus McCray line perfectly. He even had a horse named “Lori Darling”.
Much to my teenage annoyance, he made me watch the mini series many times when it premiered. I reluctantly agreed that it was a tolerable story, but honestly didn’t think much about it until he left us.
Last year I read the book. It was beautifully written ( I really hope he read the book while he was still alive). I didn’t really plan it but I finished the book and then watched the miniseries on the week of the anniversary of his death. Hearing Robert Duvall deliver all the witty lines that I heard my dad say over the years was oddly comforting.
3. Do What you Love
My dad was a hard worker. He toiled for years on the GM assembly line full time during the days, while tending to his farm in his spare time. He was an outdoors man and needed to be outside for his sanity. He hated the assembly line, but nevertheless put in his time, providing for his family until he could take early retirement. He enjoyed several years of retirement/ farming until he went back to work at something he enjoyed, helping his friend and cousin at Lewisburg Heating and Air. I am so glad that he took those years off to enjoy his farm and spend extra time with the grand kids.
He always encouraged me to find a job that I really loved. “You spend a lot of time working, you don’t want to be miserable”. This simple but wise advice was key in my choice to be an OB/GYN.
4. Enjoy nature
When I think about my dad, I usually picture him sitting on the porch. It’s sunrise and he’s holding a steaming cup of coffee, watching his cows mill around the field in the morning mist. Sometimes, I see him in the afternoon. He’s sitting with his chair kicked back on 2 legs enjoying a sweat tea or a natural light, while he jokes with friends or watches the kids run around the yard. Other times, I think back to the many hours that he and I spent on horseback, riding on one of the many trail rides we did when I was growing up (he had me riding a horse before I could walk). All my favorite memories of my dad are when he was outside, because that is where he was happiest.
6. There’s no place like home
There are many traits they say I got from my dad. It’s said that I walk like him, I work hard like he did and I know I mumble like him (half of our phone conversations where the other person saying “What?” over and over). One thing I didn’t get from him is my wanderlust. While my dad loved nature, he loved the nature in Tennessee and had no desire to travel any where else. Well, the only place he wanted to go but didn’t was Montana, but other than that he was perfectly happy to stay home. All. the. time. He was content with his farm and his life. The only power strong enough to pull him away was family (mainly grand kids).
7. Carry Cash
My dad always carried around an obnoxious amount of money in his wallet “just in case” he needed it. I on the other hand rarely have a twenty and put everything on my credit card. This frustrated him excessively, especially when I would travel. I would usually stop and get a some emergency cash to appease him if I was taking a road trip (he would always ask if I had enough money…. even when when I had a real job). This year since he’s gone I always think of him when I hit the atm before I travel. One of the many mundane things that remind me of him.
8. Family first
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13 is the scripture that I read at my dad’s standing room only funeral.
In his life and his death he put his family first. He loved us all fiercely and completely. He cared for us all and gave sacrificially to provide for his family
He was always looking out for us. I never needed to check the weather, because I knew dad was glued to the weather channel and would call me if a storm was even remotely close. He was fairly obsessed with the weather. Once on vacation, after my dad had spent an hour watching the weather channel, my son Ryan asked him ,”Papa why don’t you just walk outside and see what the weather is instead of watching it on TV”.
I knew that my dad would do anything for me or my kids. I remember a few months before he died, we were staying at his house and I woke up at 2 am to the smell of bacon cooking. I drug myself into the kitchen to see what was going on, only to find Carson perched on the counter and my dad bent over the stove. When I inquired as to what the heck was going on, I was informed that Carson was hungry and wanted bacon and eggs. The fact that it was 2 am did not seem to bother either of them.
I keep rewriting this post, each time failing to find the perfect words that his memories deserve. But these are the stories that have brought me comfort and put a teary smile on my face. I want to share them with others who also loved him, if I can muster the courage to actually hit “publish” on this post.
This father’s day I’ll celebrate the wonderful father that my husband has become and the blessing of my (step) father who did most of my raising. But every father’s day from this time forward will always be bittersweet. I will always greatly miss my dad, but I am continually thankful for the years that he was a part of our lives.