My father would have been 71 years old this year. He died 4 years ago on a cold Thursday in January, after a 2-year battle with cancer. As I’ve grappled with the challenges of being a father, a husband, a professional, and a man; I’ve missed his presence. I’ve needed him, and he has not been here. His absence is always felt, especially on Sundays at what is now my mom’s dinner table, where he is so noticeably absent. I usually sit in his place at the head of the table; it still doesn’t feel right.
His birthday is always a difficult day. It’s similar to Father’s Day and the anniversary of his death, but a little different. I feel his absence in the little details of the day. His idiosyncratic habits at the dinner table, where he always wanted a separate bowl for his salad, which had to be part of dinner. When I watch my six-year-old daughter nibble Ritz crackers, which she often shared with my dad as she sat on his lap. Or hearing Tommy Heinsohn call a Celtics game, as we watched a lot of basketball together, especially during the Larry Bird years.
His memory sneaks up on me. I find myself wondering how he’d love my son, who is a miniature version of his mischievous, stubborn personality. I catch myself sorting through his Facebook page, watching videos that I’ve saved of him playing with my daughter. As time passes, remembering him via pictures and videos, especially with my daughter and son, has been helpful. It has kept his spirit and presence with me, and has been a good way to explain who he was to my kids and why he was and still is so important to me.
Grieving is a funny beast. The loss of my father has been something that four years later still hasn’t left me. It’s as if I have kept a part of him with me, but in exchange, I lost some of myself that night. I didn’t go through the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) in a linear fashion. It was, and still is, all over the place. I often feel many of them simultaneously, like getting taken out at the knees, while taking a forearm to the face.
The death of my dad is a hole deep inside of me that has not scarred over. It will never heal. It flares up from time to time. Sometimes bringing sadness, but as time passes, more and more it’s channeling his words and habits. One thing that has helped me has been listening to his favorite music on my ride home. I usually blast Eric Clapton’s White Room or Dire Straits’ Walk of Life. Sometimes I cry a little bit. Other times I smile. Either way, it feels like he’s in the car with me.
I do my best to bend my knees while shoveling snow off the driveway, which was something he reminded me to do. I always remember him telling me after I mowed the lawn, usually related to whether or not I had properly trimmed the hedges, that it’s the last 5% of the job that people will remember. His wisdom is something that I’ll always have with me. It’s who I am and who he was. It’s him still showing his love for me, even if he’s not here anymore.
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