Dear Dad: I Was Here for Your Birthday, but You’re Gone

My father's 50th birthday

Dear Dad,

Clive and I are in New Jersey now. Maybe you already knew that, from some all-seeing place in the afterlife. I’m not sure about that, or how it might work, but I believe those things are possible.

You knew we scheduled this trip so we’d be here for your birthday. When I told you last July, you responded as you always did to good news, or to information of which you approved: ‘Very good.’

So we were here, Dad, but you’re not. We spent the day remembering you, but as everyone who’s lost a loved one knows, the calendar date doesn’t really matter. Your absence, like the sky, is with me no matter where I go.

Our wedding is over now, Dad. I’m glad I told you Clive and I were planning it. You smiled and squeezed my hand from your hospital bed; you had told me from the start how much you liked Clive. Did you somehow know that on my wedding day, I would wear the gold watch you gave me in high school? Was it just a coincidence, or something I felt was much more than that, when I took it from my jewelry box that morning, to set and wind it — because I hadn’t worn it in a couple months, and it needs to be wound every day — and at the exact moment I decided to go into the bedroom and get it, when I lifted it out and held it in my hands, the time was exactly right, 10:42 a.m.

Our wedding vows (and wearing a special watch)

You had asked me about the watch in June, because I usually wear the more casual one you also gave me, the one you insisted on buying for my birthday in Sydney when you visited in 2003, a few weeks after Gary died. I told you I still wear the gold watch regularly, just not every day.

So, Dad, when I looked at that gold watch on my wedding day, and I didn’t have to set it because it was already exactly right, I felt your presence very much with me. I know it’s always there, Dad, but if that was a specific warmth, or message, or hug from the afterlife from you, I want you to know I received it, and appreciated it.You probably also know we went to Paris after our wedding. We spent three weeks in the apartment I love, the one that caused you to say, when I bought it, ‘I think you’re off your rocker.’ You asked how much it cost. I told you. You promptly calculated how much the amount could have earned in interest and dividends if I’d invested the money, instead of spending it on my crazy dream of an apartment in Paris. In the twelve years since then, I felt you more or less accepted my love of that city, and I think you’d agree the place was a good investment in any case.

Junior parents' weekend at Michigan, our shared alma mater

So here we are in New Jersey, Dad, where you spent your long adult life. It’s been seven weeks and three days since you took your last breath. In some ways, it seems like seven years; in others, seven minutes. You called me or I called you two or three times a week, all my life, or we saw each other every few days when I was here.
But now you’re gone. When I call or see Mom, I still think, ‘I need to call Dad’ or ‘We need to schedule the next get-together with Dad.’

The death of a parent is obviously so different from that of a brother, or a husband, the two biggest losses in my life. Here, where you lived, my missing you has a strange additional element to it, because I don’t have access to your personal possessions. I wish I could do some of the things I did after Rob and Gary died — go into your closet and bury my face in your clothes; touch your watch or your cufflinks; hold items that meant something to you — those things that break your heart but also give a person remnants of the loved one’s scent, their being, their life.

Our situation is complicated because your wife has all these things, and that’s exactly how it should be. I know that. I haven’t talked with her much, Dad, though I’m the one who’s initiated the few positive communications we’ve had. I know what it’s like to be widowed, and I know her siblings and family are giving her support.

Dad in my dorm room at Michigan, freshman year

I just miss you so much, Dad. I miss calling you, miss your calling me, miss our short but frequent conversations. I miss knowing I’ll see you soon, when you stride into a restaurant to meet us, or hold open the front door of your house when we come to you.

I wish I could call you and hear your voice. I wish I could touch you. I wish I could say, ‘See you soon.’ I see you in my mind and in my heart, Dad, all the time.

I hope you were looking down on me and Clive on your birthday, Dad.

I’m here, and I’m thinking of you.

4 Responses

  1. How touching! Your Dad still loves you wherever he is; he is sending you love and telling you to live to the fullest and be happy.

  2. Carol, I know it is hard for you to be in New Jersey and not calling and seeing your father. It just doesn’t seem to be the way things should be.

    I hope you folks are prepared for lots of snow. AccuWeather, which is here in State College, is calling for quite a storm across northern New Jersey on Sunday and Sunday night. We don’t have a flake here, but Brian tells me he is prepared to not be able to leave the hotel where he works in center city Philly tomorrow night. I hope you have some good books or good movies and hunker down until all is plowed out! (I also hope there is a decent restaurant nearby that will remain open.)

    Merry Christmas as there are still 3 minutes left in the 2010 Christmas.

    –Eleanor

  3. I love that he knew you were to be coming for his birthday, and that you were able to tell him that you and Clive were preparing to marry. Amazing about the watch being just right . … I can’t imagine how tough the holidays are but then with his birthday being right now as well . . . but your letters communicating your thoughts and feelings to him are a beautiful expression and I’m sure they’re helping you process all this too. Cool that you went to his alma mater!

  4. So sorry to hear about your Dad. I know that’s a tough loss. My father isn’t doing well and I dread getting “that” phone call. Your post reminds me that I need to call him today.

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