Yesterday after I got out of my Bikram yoga class, I walked to my car and there was a boot on it for illegal parking – (SO glad I can check that off my bucket list!). The class had been a tough one for some reason, and the night was clearly not getting any better. After getting the boot off (and $75 later), I headed to the grocery store to pick up dinner, and I stopped to read an email from one of my best friends from home.
I was in my yoga class last night, and at the end, the instructor said to think of someone who has left us and to dedicate our practice. I thought of your dad, and this time of year 14 years ago when we sat on that bench for what seemed like a lifetime. I dedicated my practice to him.
Love you, thinking of you. All my love to you and your family and a Happy Thanksgiving!
I absolutely lost it in the parking lot – unconsolable tears. I hadn’t thought of that day in a long time.
This time of year is always tough, but over time it’s gotten easier – mostly from distractions, trying to forget, trying to keep busy, or trying to make new traditions. But there’s a certain guilt that comes with trying to forget. You see, there’s a very delicate balance in loss: trying to remember the one you love, and trying to forget the pain of missing them. Neither option feels good.
Seeing as this week marks his 14th anniversary, and I have lived almost as many years as the age I was when he passed, it only feels right to make a blog tribute, because the little memory that I have of him is all that is left.
Remembering My Dad 14 Years Later
In 2000, I was a sophomore at a very small, private K-12 school. My dad had been sick for a long time, and it wasn’t until December of 1999 that my mom told my sister and I that the doctors could no longer operate, perform radiation, or treat with chemo – his cancer was terminal. Being only 14 years old, this is kind of a difficult concept to understand. At the same time, I hadn’t ever known anything different in life; he had been fighting cancer from the time I was 7 years old.
At any rate, we were all braced for this unreal, unfathomable truth that the doctors said would happen within a year. They said that they would try chemo for a bit, but then at a certain point, there was no more the drugs could do.
His Final Project
My dad’s final project at home was to put a pool in our backyard. He worked on it the entire time he was sick, and our house is on a steep hill so there were all sorts of retaining walls and other things he needed to do to actually make this pool project happen.
Sometimes he was so sick he would cry – at least that’s what my mom told me after we lost him. But I only remember seeing him cry twice – the day he told my sister and I he was terminal, and one time when he and I were downstairs in his office during his last year. I think he cried because of the guilt he felt for leaving my mom with two small children. (The real truth is that my mom was the strongest of us all and kept us together, but that’s an entirely different post).
But my dad was one of the strongest people I’ve ever known. Despite having multiple very serious neck and tongue surgeries to remove the cancer and to try to replace his tongue with other muscles in his body, he never complained, even though these surgeries caused his voice to strain, and caused him to choke frequently.
Instead, he smiled, and he joked. He made everyone around him feel good.
People who knew my dad well always tell me that my sense of humor reminds them of him. It makes me feel like even though I never got to know him as an adult, there is still a part of him that is an innate part of me – regardless of how little time I had with him.
In September of 2000, my dad finished his master pool project for the house. My dad was extremely talented with his hands. He was able to fix anything around the house – wiring for tv or sound systems, a broken garage door, anything electrical, a leaky faucet, and any other random thing that might break around the house. He was naturally gifted at putting things together, and the pool is a daily reminder of how good he was.
My mom’s friend Healey and Bill always remind me of when my dad dragged Bill out to the backyard to move part of the hill with the Bobcat. Bill tells the story better than I ever could, but my dad had no fear. He just popped the Bobcat right up the hill, regardless of the 45 degree incline, and got it done. He never showed that he was scared.
When he finished the project, we filled the pool and we all jumped in. This was his only swim in it, but it’s forever a part of our house.
November 28, 2000
I got called from my PE class that I needed to be picked up and go home. My dad was on Hospice at this point, so I didn’t know if he would still be alive when I got home. My friend who wrote me the email, sat with me on the green benches outside of the Pinewood theatre. It did feel like an eternity. I can’t remember if I said anything at all. I just remember looking at the birds in the sky and watching them as they flew.
My mom’s best friend came to pick me up, and we went home.
By the time I got home, he was already gone, but his body was still there – in our living room, since he was too weak to climb stairs at the end. His body stayed with us that night, and in retrospect it’s one of the most frightening things ever. He was cold, he did not look like my dad, and you could see the small cancer tumors all over his neck. All traumatizing things for a kid.
Sometimes I wish I hadn’t seen him that way. But at the same time, that was my only chance to say goodbye.
14 years later…. I’ve finished high school, college and grad school. I had my first job in London, multiple jobs in SF, and now at Verizon in Atlanta. I have seen the pyramids of Giza, the Great Wall of China, and the Eiffel Tower. I’ve fallen in and out of love… and back in again. I bought my first condo, and I got a dog. And in 2015, I’ll be getting married – all big milestones that he’s missed.
And now, it’s becoming difficult to remember things. What did his voice exactly sound like? What if I had a voicemail to listen to from him? Or what if I had old emails to go back and read? Email and cell phones were before this time. What did he smell like? All I can remember is his Budweiser beer mustache when he would kiss me goodnight with. I wonder if he’d be proud of me, or if he and I would have the same fights my mom and I have? Would he be excited about my wedding?
Just two weeks ago, I found out when my mom and sister were in Atlanta, that he used to say “fixin'”, as in “I’m fixin’ to grab a drink”. He was from the South, and I guess I kind of don’t remember that either – except for the fact that he was a die-hard Seminole’s fan. I could never forget that.
So here I am, 14 years later, I am remembering him.
I miss you, and I love you, Dad.