Eight years ago today, my dad died. As I drove to work this morning, I thought about the timeline of that day. Waking up at what I thought of then as an ungodly hour and driving towards Graham, the same as I did today. Calling my mom and getting the phone lines crossed. Answering her return call and hearing the news. Thinking as I drove that those would be my last moments as a whole person with a whole family. Realizing that, in less than an hour, I would see his body and suddenly I would become a girl without her dad. As I pulled into the school parking lot today, the time on my clock did not go unnoticed, as I remembered it was the same hour I was pulling into my dad’s driveway eight years ago. Life changed forever in that hour.
I have documented my journey of grief throughout the years. I have felt anger and disbelief and sadness. I have forgotten him and remembered him. I have accepted that life and grief are both cycles. And I have written. I write because there are moments when I miss him so deeply that it literally feels as though the air is being sucked from my lungs, and writing helps me breathe again.
I was wrong back then, back when I thought it would never get easier. I move on through life and try to make him proud, and as time passes, it does feel easier to breathe and walk and laugh without him here. As the years go by, I think of him less throughout each day, though he is always in my heart.
Still, sometimes I become overwhelmed with missing him. His absence is a deep chasm in my soul. A missing puzzle piece in my life. A hole that keeps me from being whole. I find I am still the girl without her dad that I became eight years ago.
My life is a happy one right now. I am surrounded by children and animals and close friends and my most treasured loved ones. And yet. As I grow up, and the years seem to fly by at breakneck speed, I stumble across moments that take my breath away with wanting. Wanting my dad here.
There are times I anticipate how difficult certain parts of life will be without him, and I know I will want him next to me.
I recently bought my first new car, and in the months before the purchase, I procrastinated over every little detail. From whether to scrap my old car or sell it, to which features I wanted in my new car, to the amount I could afford, I put every decision off as long as I could. My dad was a car guy. He showed me how to check fluids, how to test tire pressure, and how to drive country roads. I knew it would be painful, going through this new-car-process without him here to guide me.
I know the day will come that I will walk down an aisle to marry the man I love. And I believe my dad will be there in spirit. But I also know he won’t be holding my hand as I walk to the altar, he won’t be twirling me around on a dance floor at the reception, and he won’t be giving any break-my-daughter’s-heart-and-I-will-break-your-bones speech. I know I will be crying both tears of joy and tears of sadness when that day comes.
Then, there are the moments I’m not expecting him to cross my mind, but he does and I am crushed by the wanting.
Planning meals to cook for the week and coming across a chicken teriyaki meal online. Breaking down into tears, knowing that no chicken teriyaki will ever be as good as his was. Knowing that his secret recipes and kitchen hacks died with him.
Watching Matt drag our dog around the apartment on a blanket, and thinking back to a similar scenario. Remembering my dad running down the hallway with us girls sitting on the quilt he pulled behind him as we laughed and squealed for him to go faster. Silently crying into my pillow as I realize he will never play these same games, as a grandfather, with my own children some day.
And speaking of children. Talking about the future with Matt and starting to sob as I realize our children won’t have anyone to call PawPaw, as I lovingly referred to my father’s father. Who could have ever thought that a silly little term of endearment could bring on such a deep wave of grief?
These moments, the ones that I know are coming and those that catch me off guard, they are like punches to the gut. In these moments, I feel as if I’m having a nightmare I can’t wake up from. Like life is playing a really cruel, one-sided prank on me. And sometimes, I am almost embarrassed at how emotional I still get, all this time later, over the smallest reminders.
It is easier. But it’s not easy. It has been eight years and I still feel the need to write about him because, tonight, I feel again like I can’t breathe. I miss him and I want him here.
Love you, Daddy.
"If I stayed here with you, girl,
Things just couldn't be the same.
I'm as free as a bird now.
Bye-bye, it's been a sweet love."