Happy Birthday. You would be 76 today.
I think of you all the time and of all the things I wish I could say. Funny, the thoughts come so eloquently when I’m just thinking them, but put a blank word document on the computer screen in front me? And I’m stricken dumb.
I can’t begin to tell you how much I miss you. How everyday I wish I could pick up the phone to call you. How when I see an Eagle flying or a Moose in my backyard or on the river, I almost always have to swallow the lump in my throat because you’re not here to share it with me.
The pain of losing you is still palpable after almost 7 years. I did make a decision to begin grief counseling this year. I know you would be so relieved. Truth be told, the pain has been almost paralyzing at times. Some days I found myself physically trying just to act like everything is “normal”, working so hard just to get through a day, without wanting to fling myself to the floor in a fit of sobs. At times, I can objectify the pain. It’s like I can hold it in my hand and look at it, but wonder why I can’t just scatter my grief to the wind and watch it disappear. Then like a piece of two-sided tape, I could shake my hand, and try to detach it, to no avail.
When we were back in NC in January, I was looking at old photo albums and I mentally made a timeline from when you were healthy up to just a few weeks before your death. I realize, now that I’m dealing with my grief, that the mind has a way of making us see what we want to see. Up until recently when I thought about your death I always thought: he looked great up until the day he died. And though you did die in your bed, in your work clothes, only now when I look back at photographs, do I realize how sick you really looked and really were. The hollowed-out cheeks, the jaundice from failing organs, the gloves you kept on your nightstand because you got so cold at night even though it was summer. I am grateful that in spite of your drastically changed looks and declining health, your beautiful smile never changed. I look at the last picture I took of you (cutting into the coconut cake I made for you), and my heart melts from that smile that made the Cancer seem small and insignificant.
At times I find myself bragging about you. Probably boring the tears right out of everyone except everyone who knew you. I want to tell everyone what an accomplished photographer you were. How you could make anything grow. How you were extremely intelligent and if circumstances had been different with your parents, you would have gone to college to double major in Horticulture and Meteorology. Howard still misses how he could sit with you and talk about everything under the sun and admire that you knew what the hell you were talking about. I want to tell the world how you loved history, electronics, and Amateur radio. You were the first person in town to have the latest camcorder, cell phone, or dvd player. And it wasn’t to show off. You simply looked at things organically. It was the same with your garden. I love to tell people how you once grew a tomato one ounce short of the world record and on another occasion grew an 8lb Turnip. You were always making the local papers with your gardening skills. But always stayed humble. I am so proud of you.
During the times that Kim and I start becoming bitter about not having a father, we try to stop and remember that we did have a father. Not only were you a doting grandfather to both of us; but you gave us the love and guidance we needed to be decent and confident human beings. It took a long time for both of us to figure that out. No one could ever comprehend the things you and memaw both sacrificed for us. We both know how lucky we were and still are.
I have so many wonderful memories of you and so few bad ones. And if they were bad? They were probably because I was the one causing all the heartache. I regret wasting the years I did with my addictions and rebellion. But thank you for being my light in the dark. For loving me enough to offer to give up everything for my happiness and health. Even now on the bad days, when depression begins to take over, I only need to think of our time together. My favorite being when I was a little girl who loved to walk behind you as you tilled the garden. You made me hold on to your belt loop and walk in your footsteps. I remember doing it so young that I used to have to jump from footprint to footprint. I would ask you a million questions and you’d answer every one with such patience. My God, I thought you walked on water. I guess I still do.
Three and half years ago, I made a big decision to move to Alaska. You played a big part in that decision even though you were already gone. In the months prior, Howard and I both really wrestled with such a big move. We wanted to do it, but a part of us thought the idea of moving so far away and giving up so much, seemed absurd. It was “safer” and “more practical” to stay in North Carolina. But for months, it was almost as if you were with us, pushing us to go. “Take a chance kids, be adventurous while you can, you only get one life, live it how YOU want to live it.” You used to say that to me all the time. It reverberated until I knew in my heart, that I should go out on a limb, do something crazy. And so we moved. Sold almost everything we owned and started a new life. In spite of people thinking Howard and I both are nuts and judging us, we know we made the right decision. I know you would be proud.
I want you to know that memaw told me that one of the things you confessed before your death was a huge fear of not having a good influence on your family. I’m here to tell you and I know everyone else would agree: You had an overwhelmingly positive influence. You’ve inspired all of us. I can speak for myself and say that you have made me less afraid to face my life, to take chances, most importantly be who I am. You taught me to savor each moment, not to get stuck on the “ordinary”, the “safe” aspects of life. I love you for that. You were/are amazing.
I wish you could be here so I could rest my head on your chest like I used to. So I could feel your arms around me when I want to give you a hug. But you’re not. And it’ll never be okay, but I’ve learned instead of fighting my grief, to accept it. Grief and I, we’ve come to a livable compromise. It promises not to consume my life and I promise not to let it. In letting it overwhelm me, I know that those are the moments when you wouldn’t be proud. You would worry and I’d feel guilty. But there will never be a day that I won’t miss you.
You are in my heart every day. Thank you for being so phenomenal. Thank you for being everything I needed.
I love you,