Dear Dad: It’s been three years

Dear Dad,

November 21.

I guess that date will never again slide by unnoticed, just a day leading up to Thanksgiving, just a Monday, or a Tuesday, maybe a Wednesday.  November 21.  That’s the day my dad died.  How strange.  It still feels strange.

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Goofing around

For some reason, the days leading up to the day are the hardest for me.  I think back and think, this time three years ago my dad had a week to live and nobody knew.  This time three years ago, my dad would be gone in four days and we didn’t know.  This time three years ago, my dad was going to sleep and he was never going to wake up again.  I probably shouldn’t think about it like that, but it’s hard not to.  It wasn’t planned.  We didn’t know.  I went to work that morning, worked all day, and it wasn’t a big deal.  I also checked my credit score.  It’s funny the things you remember.

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I still can’t believe we wore these sweatshirts.  They had bells on them.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that evening that we found out, mom and I.  I haven’t really gone through the events that happened, that horrible night, in a sequential timeline.  I remember flashes of it at a time.  We were at the Dillard’s at Atlantic Station where we had met after work and we were in the dressing room trying on dresses.  I remember that there was an Australian woman in there as well, and she told me that she liked my accent.  I thought that was so odd but I liked it.  I don’t know why I remember that detail.  I don’t remember what happened to her, or if she was still around when the call came in.  Matthew called Mom while we were together, and she was so excited to get a call from him.  I was standing next to her, and she got so upset, she was saying over and over, getting more and more hysterical “He died?!  He died?!  How?  When?”  I didn’t know who, I couldn’t get her to tell me who, but I could tell from her reaction that it was bad.  “Mom, who died, WHO DIED” I kept saying, getting more panicked every time I didn’t get an answer.  Finally she said your name, that it was you, that you were gone, and the entire planet shifted.  I’ll never forget how she said you name.  I ran out of the dressing room, not for any reason other than I had to move, I had to move, I couldn’t stand still.  The floor would crumble underneath me.  Oh my god my dad is dead my dad is dead my daddy died no no no no no.  I remember the first sensation I felt when she said your name was a burning, frantic, panicked desperation to tell you all the things that I never told you, all the things I would ever want to tell you, anything and everything, that I loved you, but I couldn’t I never could again.  I could never tell you anything again.  I wanted to call you and tell you my dad died that something really horrible had happened, that horrible thing that only happens to other people, and I needed you.  Except it WAS you.  It was you I needed but it was you who was gone.  What on earth do I do with that?  That was probably just the first five seconds.

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After my senior bassoon recital at UGA

I called Sam and he left his full cart in Kroger and came to get us.  Maria and Triss were on the way to us, too.  Matthew called them before he called us.  Everybody was coming.  The nice ladies at the department store brought us bottles of water, boxes of tissues, and cleared the rest of the people out.  We sat on the floor together, not sure what to do or where to go.  I heard crying and I guess it must have been us, but it sounded so far away.  Somehow we got out of the dresses and back into our own clothes, though I don’t remember that part.  I think the ladies who worked there helped us.  Sam and Triss and Maria came and got us, met us in the dressing room, hugged us, and we all cried and cried.  My sleeves were wet from tears.  I remember at one point seeing my face in the mirror and I didn’t even recognize myself.  Were those my eyes?  I guess that’s who I am now, I thought.  Then I called your sister and I had to tell her that her brother was dead.  Sam told me to use the word “dead” because when you talk to people who are in shock, you have to use hard words or they can’t understand, they don’t want to understand.  I told her you died.  She called me back a few minutes later and asked, Kristen, did you really just tell me Greig died?  Yes, he died.  He’s gone.  I guess even when you use hard words sometimes it’s still hard to take in.

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Christmas 2007 at Stone Mountain Park

Somehow we got back to my apartment and so many people were already there, straightening up, with dinner and breakfast for the next morning.  Someone folded the clean towels on the couch and I remember finding it peculiar that I didn’t care if they thought I was messy for not having all my laundry folded and put away.  I let them do it for me.  Emily and Barbara had come, Erin, Jane, Pete was already driving from Birmingham.  It was the most vulnerable I had ever been, but our dear friends didn’t even give us the chance to fall.  They were under us, supporting us, providing for us, taking care of us before we even knew what we needed.  We sat on the couch for a long time.  I remember we passed through several cycles of intense tears followed by some relief and breathing and some light laughter, then I would remember and the wave would pull me down again.

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You guys loved coming to the football games.

Somehow the next few days happened and we waited while they brought you home from Colorado.  I’m not sure of the details of how you got here, though I remember one gut-wrenching moment when I realized I didn’t know who would meet you at the airport.  The day of your funeral was so cold and I think it was raining.  I didn’t have a warm enough coat but someone let me borrow one.  I don’t remember who.

But now, looking back on that time, three years later, what stands out to me most is not the pain and shock, though I still feel that, too, but the love and kindness.  From the strangers in the department store to our dear friends and family, we were overwhelmed with people wanting to help us, to make something easier when even breathing was difficult.  Friends brought food and folded my laundry, they sent cards and flowers, they came to your funeral and held our hands.  They put plates of food in our lap and encouraged us to eat.  Sam turned down the bed and had my clothes picked out in the morning so I wouldn’t even have to think about how to get dressed. My co-workers took on my workload and left me with not a single thing to do upon returning to work after Thanksgiving.  Emily brought me some yarn, knitting needles, and a pattern to keep my mind busy, but simple enough to where I didn’t have to think.  Sam’s family welcomed me for my first Thanksgiving with them and talked openly about my dad so I wouldn’t have to pretend nothing happened, and they didn’t recoil when tears came out of nowhere.

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Brunch at Cafe Intermezzo.  This was the last time we were all together.

I miss you terribly, Dad, but I wouldn’t want to give up what I have learned in the last few years. What matters is sharing a human connection.  I think every day that I want to make someone feel as loved and worthy as those beautiful souls made us feel when you died, Dad.  And I don’t want to wait until they experience a great loss or trauma.  I want to treat people like they matter right now.  Even if it’s just a smile in the hallway, talking to a student after class, making someone laugh when they’re having a crappy day, or remembering something they’ve said to me earlier and asking about it again.  I want to let people know that I see them, that I can see their importance in the whole of the universe.  I want to be an instrument of peace and a light to those around me.  I still get stressed and overwhelmed and forget, but I try.  I really try.  I’m a work in progress, too.  We can’t avoid pain in life, Dad, even the life-altering kind that divides the world into before and after.  I can’t know for sure that nothing will ever hurt me again.  What I am sure of, though, is that can I leave everyone I come in contact with a little better than I found them.  Thank you for helping me find my truth in life, Dad.  Be love and light.

I love you and I miss you.

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