It’s been five years since my father’s death, and I miss him. It’s funny how you miss someone more once you know they’re gone from this earth, and not just living in another place where you don’t see them often. Maybe “more” isn’t the right word. Maybe I miss him in a different way now.
My father was well known in town, and made many friends and acquaintances during his life. He and my mother ran a tavern for many years, and did the whole responsible drinking thing before it was cool. They never let anyone drive away from their place if they knew they’d had too much to drink.
I was a little girl then. I didn’t get to go to my parents’ workplace unless it was a Sunday night, when things were relatively quiet. I’d get a Coke and a Hershey’s bar, play the jukebox and shoot at aliens in an arcade game.
My dad was a busy guy, and when he got home from work, I was to leave him alone and let him relax. We didn’t have a close relationship, but I knew he loved me a lot.
I remember him singing Christmas carols with me, he had a wonderful singing voice. And when he whistled, it wasn’t just a regular whistle but one with a beautiful vibrato to it. He didn’t whistle often, so it was special when he did. When he’d hug me, he’d gently rock me back and forth, and it was sort of his signature hug. What I would give for one of those hugs today.
I lost my mom when I was in high school, and that was when my dad and I really got to know each other better. It wasn’t an easy time, because I was surrounded with the superficiality of high school and distracted by too many social events, while my dad sat at home and looked through old photo albums for hours. It was a heartbreaking time.
I remember a day when I did my best to make supper, something I absolutely hated doing but did out of a sense of duty. Having never shown any interest in cooking, my mother hadn’t made any attempts to teach me. Or perhaps that’s where I inherited my dread of cooking. I’ll never know. But one evening as I was pulling a casserole out of the oven, it slipped, fell to the floor and shattered, making a terrible mess.
It was a metaphorical moment for that point of our lives, and I remember collapsing in tears that were a combination of fury and sadness. Doing my best to take care of my dad, having no idea how to do that, and failing … it was just too much.
As I sat on the floor sobbing, dad came over to hold me, and we cried together. No need for words, the understanding was complete between us.
It took a while, but eventually he married a lovely lady, and I got married and started a family. As life does, we drifted apart, taking care of our loved ones, where our priorities were. I wish I’d have made a habit of visiting more often, so my children would have known him better, and what a lovely man he was.
As he grew older, at some point when no one noticed, he had a few small strokes. Eventually dementia set in, and one day when he couldn’t find his way back from a dog walk, it became apparent there was a problem. Many doctors and medications later, the problem was under control, and yet the decline could not be completely halted. We had no idea how much time had passed since it had begun. All we could do was make the best of the time remaining.
I read books about the problem and did my best to understand what was going on inside his head. I wanted to know what he was thinking and feeling and the best way to reach him. I took nursing level courses in an attempt to stay connected. What was most impressive to me was his generally happy outlook. He sensed something was wrong, but his fabulous sense of humor was still intact. I could only hope that, given the same circumstance, I could live with such grace.
He passed away during a particularly difficult time in my life, and I miss him quite dearly. I still talk to him now and then, and feel his presence in my life. He still tells me jokes, just without using words.
I’m not comfortable with my parents gone. It’s an odd feeling and I don’t like it. There’s a support system that’s missing, and a feeling like I have to be a grown-up now. And although I’ve wanted to be a lot of things in my life, that’s something I’ve never wanted to be.
Originally published March 13, 2015.