The Phoenix sun shined brightly through the window. I wasn’t sure why I woke up, it was far too early for a girl, newly into her teens, to be awake on a Saturday. I turned over to see the big brown eyes of my little brother looking at me. He was quiet and still. We didn’t say anything, almost as if we were afraid to break the quiet peacefulness of the house. I sat up and looked across the upstairs into my parents bedroom. From where I was, I could only see the foot of my parents bed. At the foot of the bed were my mother and my oldest sister. Kneeling. Praying.
The foot of the bed of my father.
My dad. The man I loved the most in the world had just died. I didn’t cry. I exhaled. For weeks it felt as though I had been holding my breath. Waiting to finally breathe. Everyone and everything seemed to be holding their breaths, too. That feeling of relief, of letting all the air up that you’d been holding in for way too long permeated through the house. It was like even our home, down to the studs, deflated a little bit.
That day wasn’t as hard to live through as it is to look back on. 18 years later, the day isn’t what it was then. It isn’t a day of relief, of gratefulness that my father is no longer suffering from a cancer that took him too soon. It’s a reminder of the hole in my life that could never be filled. A life that was irreplaceable. It’s a reminder of the very fragility of life, the impermanence of this existence. I went from being hopeful to a little jaded, a little sad, a little more withdrawn.
I struggled mightily with losing my dad. The first year I only spoke about it a handful of times. I followed my mother’s lead and stayed busy enough to be a step ahead of the grief. We lived in the same home that I had woke to that bright June morning. The memories still there, as if floating in the pool, hanging in the closets, and tucked away in the hand prints in the cement in the driveway. We moved a year after his passing to a new home a state away. Walls he’d never touched, tiles he did not lay. He wasn’t there in the big house on Mountain Road.
It took years for me to unfold myself from the crumpled up girl I became in my teenage years. I was a mixture of hormones, anger and sadness. I looked for him in the physical, and stopped finding him in the spiritual. I had to learn to find my dad in the joys of life instead of the home in which he lived. I’m still learning.
I find him when I’m on the beach. He loved the ocean like I do.
I find him in the compassion of my oldest son, the mind of my middle, and the creativity of my youngest. I find him when I hold Abby.
I find him when I write. He was a writer, too. Here in Rhode Island, in this big, noisy house, I find my dad as I plunk away at the keys on this laptop. I’m a lot less sad than I was when I began this. And he’d want that. He’d want me to write.
He wouldn’t want this day to be a day where I’m only reminded of what I lost, but to be a way to remember to continue to look for him in everything good that my life has become. He’s there in the details, the quiet giggles, the whispers in tide, the tinkering of the keys.