Monday, June 11, 2012

Little Girl

Today is my dad's birthday. He would have been 66. I mark the day every year because it is almost impossible for me to forget dates. Unless they are happening in the future, and then it's almost impossible for me to remember them.

I resembled my dad physically when he was alive, and our personalities were very similar in a lot of important ways. The kind of ways that enabled us to enjoy an amiable relationship and not push each other's buttons too much. One time when I was getting in very bad trouble for some indiscretion in high school, he sent my mom out of the room and he said, "A father isn't supposed to have favorites, and I don't. But I think you and I understand each other, we think alike in some ways." I've always been his little girl.

My dad and me when I was a little girl.
I think about him every day. Before he died, I used to hear people say things like that and think "Oh, how morbid." It's because I didn't really understand. I didn't understand how you can miss someone, but not be sad all the time about it. For the first year after he died, I didn't understand how anyone could miss someone and not feel like they'd been punched in the stomach. For a year I saved up most of my tears all day and then cried them into the sink as I washed the dishes after dinner. I don't really do that any more.

I was thinking about his hands today. He had big, broad hands - full of scars. They were the hands of a much younger man. My sister said she would never marry someone who didn't have strong hands. She didn't either. The last time I saw him was in a hotel room in San Antonio, Texas. He was sick. He was waiting for open heart surgery. He was going to die. I think we both knew it, but we wouldn't say it. I sat with him on the bed and he held hands with my jBird. Her tiny white hand in his big brown one. Even sick, he was tanned from working in the yard. She sat and she petted the curly red hair on his arms. Sometimes he would slip and call her by my name. He sometimes had a hard time relating to me as an adult. I was always his little girl. It drove me nuts because I'm not a little girl.

"We never talked to you kids about dying," he said. "It's nothing to be afraid of."
"I know," I said.
"Papa, will you die?" jBird asked.
"Everybody dies, baby. It's part of life. It's why you live your life well today, so the dying is all right," he said. I'm not sure if he was talking to her or to me. I could only sit and listen. I had no words. I didn't want to lie or say something ridiculous and comforting.
"I want you to know I'm not afraid to die," he said. "I want you to know that whatever happens, it's all right. I should have talked to you more about this while you were a kid. Then you wouldn't be afraid."
"I'm not afraid," I said. "You did talk to us about this. It's just hard to know how to think about it until it happens. I'm OK. I want you to focus on getting better. You and Mom can move out West. You need to be near us."
"Yeah, Papa! You can come live with us!" jBird piped up.
He laughed. He always had a marvelous laugh. "I'd love that."

The Hooligan wasn't quite two yet and he was rolling around on the bed with my mom, showing how he could count backwards from 10. We watched them play for a while, because his big old pumpkin grin is somewhat irresistible. He looks so much like my dad. We didn't talk about this dying business any more. I sat and held his hand and I could almost believe that everything would be all right.

You know, everything is all right. He died. Three days after his surgery, just as the doctors said he was getting better. I'm not angry with them. They did their best. They were surprised and grief-stricken as well. But everything is all right. Sure, I miss him. I think of him every day. I think of him at milestones. I remember his birthday. I think of him today, his birthday. Tomorrow we go and get our new house inspected. It is our first house. We will be moving to someplace my dad has never seen. He would have been out of control with excitement. He would have driven me nuts. He would have had all sorts of advice about things I already know. He would have double checked that my husband knew what he was doing and it would have infuriated us. He would have had to have been restrained by my mother from coming immediately and painting every room and digging flower beds and fixing every loose screw in the place. He would have pestered my mom to look at the pictures of it over and over. I would have been irritable and flattered and I would have known that he was like a kid when he was excited about something and that he didn't really mean to intrude.

So I think of him especially today. I'm not very sad, though. I laugh at the silly things I remember about him. I laugh at how he would have been so excited to see this next step in my life. I wonder if where he is, he can. I don't wonder about it too much, though. Because he is where he is supposed to be and I am where I am supposed to be. And because he told me not to be afraid. Because I knew he was ready to go. Because he told me it's part of life. Because he told me to live the best I can now.  He told me everything would be all right. And I believed him. Because I've always been his little girl. And because I'm not a little girl.


29 comments:

  1. Simply sad. Simply beautiful. Simply touching. Simply inspiring.
    Thank you for a wonderful and revealing glimpse of your Dad.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, Lynda Grace.

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  2. Oh Tangled....
    I so wish I'd been able to talk to my mother about her dying when she was dying (at 82). She was the old fashioned sort, a generation before your father's - that didn't talk about such things. But I remember sitting on her knee as a little girl having the 'death talk' (like the sex talk but different) and being upset when I discovered people die, that I would die and worse - that my mother would die.
    Years later I would have the same talk with my son.
    My father died before I married and I often wonder whether he's like the man I picked.
    Thank you for sharing this.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your perspective on this. I'm always interested in what experiences other people have had. I don't know why we get so uncomfortable talking about death.

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  3. You needed to put up a 3 Kleenex Warning before that post. Beautiful and touching. And I'm calling my dad now. Thank you for that.

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  4. Oh, how I can relate. I hope you can feel I'm sending lots of fun, silly Papa's birthday wishes and love to you and the fam.

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    1. Thanks Margi, I know you can relate.

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  5. really lovely, Lou. Thank you.

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  6. TL, my sister-in-law's father passed away last week. I have wondered and worried over what to say to her. I bought a lovely card, but it felt so empty. If you don't mind, I'm going to print this and give it to her. As the only daughter in her family, I'm sure she was 'daddy's little girl'. I think she will find comfort in your beautifully written words. Thank you.

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    1. I don't mind at all, if you think it will help.

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  7. This is beautiful. You are beautiful. ♥

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  8. I just hope and wish, I can accept life with as much grace as you have ..

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    1. Oh, you are so sweet to say that. I think you probably have a pretty good head start on me.

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  9. This is so gorgeous and deeply moving. What a tribute to your dad. I'm sorry you lost him. From what you've written here, it sounds like you are living in a way that would have made him very proud. This is so sad and so beautiful.

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    1. Thank you, V.
      He was ridiculously proud of me my whole life. I'm not sure how much that has had to do with who I am, though. I think it was more a function of his absolute faith in me.

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  10. Ditto, Ditto and Ditto to all the comments above. Simply a perfect way to put it.

    My earliest memories are the realisation that death is a part of life and some times preferable to suffering. I am glad your Dad lived life like you described and went on his own terms and I am glad you had that conversation. I am sure he would just be proud that you are living your life.

    I didn't know my Dad for long and after 23 years without him my grief still brings me to my knees from time to time. I will always be Daddy's little girl as long as I live (as I guess you will be too) and will constantly tell my girls about the Grandad they will never know.

    We will always remember with a smile :-)

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    1. Grief is a wily thing. It seems to have a mind of its own. I do understand how it can sometimes attack out of seemingly nowhere. It is cathartic to gather these fragments of memories and hand them without reservation to others.

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  11. What a great way to remember your dad, Lou. (Good luck with the inspection!)

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    1. Thanks, Skwishee! The inspection went GREAT!

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  12. well written,

    dug deep. pain. sorry for your loss.

    garry

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  13. This is simply one of the best things I've read. I had to get up to find some tissue, but tears in the morning were well worth it. This is beautiful.

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    1. Wow, Michelle. Thank you so much. It really means a lot coming from you and your perspective.

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