Today is Memorial Day. In the past four years, the day has taken on a bit of a different meaning for me. We barbeque, yes, I get a day off of work, yes, but most of all, I think about my dad.
It is all at once dumbfounding and alarming how that much time has passed. In November, it will be five years. Wasn't it just yesterday he was video recording my sister and I laughing at the burger joint, just yesterday I was handing him nail clippers in his podiatry office, just yesterday I received long, detailed letters from him while I was serving a mission?
But it wasn't just yesterday. In fact, by this point, it was thousands of yesterdays.
I always find it tricky to know what to say about my dad on this blog. To know how to share that bit of my life with readers without it turning into a pity party or a sob fest. To be vulnerable without making others uncomfortable. I suppose I may say things that are too personal, but more than any other event, my dad's death has affected, shifted, alternated my life. And so I suppose every year I will write this post that marks the numbers of years that have passed since he left us. Because I love him and miss him and because so much about the way that I am is because of my dad.
In days that are especially difficult, when the pangs of missing are extra sharp, I think about what it would be like to see my dad again in this earth. I'm not greedy- I wouldn't ask to have him back permanently. But how about once a year? How about a two hour lunch with my dad- a time to catch up, to feel how much he loves me, and to be daddy's little girl again? What would I say to my dad if I could talk to him again, if I were to catch him up on everything about my life?
Dad- did you know I got married? Of course you do. I felt you there that day. Did you know I'm a teacher? Of course you do- I know how proud you are of how hard I work. Did you know that I am writing regularly- and that hundreds of people read what I write? I think you would be really proud of this. Did you know that we all miss you so much even though sometimes we just don't talk about it because it's easier not to? Did you know that last night mom and all your kids that could got together and Phil made your pizza recipe and we talked about the good old days and mom told us about when you two were dating? Did you know that mom is so strong? That she carries on and serves other and never feels sorry for herself. I feel sorry for myself sometimes, but then I look to mom's example and remember that we have been so blessed. Did you know that Mary is a missionary in Argentina and that all of your kids went on missions? You left that legacy to us. You always had that passion for sharing your beliefs, and did you know you passed it on to all of us? Did you know that you have so many grandkids, and even two more on the way? Did you know that a Mormon ran for president? Did you know that we all carry a part of you, that all of your kids do things that they learned from you? Did you know that we love you and miss you?
And yet, I suppose I could never really feel justified in asking for this. I don't need a lunch date with my dad, because I already see him regularly. My dad lives in the shadows of my life. I see him, I feel him, I hear him oftentimes when I least expect it. The times when I feel him closest to me are the times when I am doing the things he loved to do. One morning in the summer I was staying at our cabin and woke up early to make french toast. I was the only one awake and the sun was just beginning to shine its brilliant rays on us. I stood there, in that kitchen my dad loved so much, where he laid the tile with his bear hands, feeling the early morning sunshine that he couldn't get enough of, and I felt him there with me, lurking in the shadows.
The other night I was watching a television program and the dog was sitting on my lap. I needed to get a glass of water so I patted the couch next to me and said, "Hop off pop..." telling the dog to hop off of me. I was immediately taken aback. Where had this phrase come from? I hadn't heard it in years. Memories surfaced of me as a little girl, sitting on my dad's lap to read the comics with him. And when we were all done, and it was time for me to get off my dad's lap, he would always command me to "Hop off pop." And here I was, years later with that phrase resurfacing to the forefront of my memory. I couldn't help but smile and feel my dad close to me.
A couple of months ago, the heavens unleashed on us, and 8 inches of snow mercilessly dumped down. I came home from school that Friday and noticed the driveway, covered in inches and inches of seemingly harmless snowflakes. I thought, "Heck! I can shovel this up for my mom, no problemo!" I put some gloves on, whipped out the old, trusty shovel, and set to work.
About three minutes in I was completely exhausted. "Wow! Shoveling inches and inches of snow is hard work!" I thought. "How have I lived to be 26 years old and never know how bad this sucks?" Instantly, I thought of my dad and the countless times I had seen him shoveling driveways, porches, patios, and walkways. I remembered a huge snowstorm where my siblings and I rushed out to the back yard to make snow forts, snow angels, and snowball after snowball after snowball. My dad shoveled while we played. We made a snowman and he shoveled. He engaged in a furious snowball fight. He shoveled. Long after we were exhausted and frozen and inside warming up ourselves with hot chocolate, my dad shoveled on.
How many thankless hours had he spent shoveling snow? Or doing some other work to give me such comforts in life? Weeding gardens or planting potatoes or clipping toenails or chopping firewood? How many things had he sacrificed in his life to give his kids and wife the lives we now know? How much money did he spend on us, how many tuition checks did he write, how many cars did he endlessly repair on account of his eight kids? It was almost a revelation to me, that Friday afternoon, as I shoveled that driveway- my dad must have done so much to make my life comfortable that I will never be aware of. That I will never be able to thank him for. He gave everything for us. It is difficult to explain how something as everyday as shoveling snow can become so sublime and even spiritual, but I felt my dad's presence there with my so strongly that afternoon, felt him in the shadows, shoveling with me, thanking me for helping my mom, and telling me he loved me.
And so, even though I yearn for that lunch date with my dad, long to have him here again making pizza for us, daydream about a conversation we might have, I will continue to thank God for putting my dad right where he is. In the memories, in the family get togethers, and even in the snow.
In the shadows of my life.
For more posts on my dad and dealing with death go here, here, and here.
***Originally published on November 19, 2012.