I'm writing this on the 7th because to tell you the truth, I'm not so sure if I sat down on Sunday and tried to get through it I would be able to, and I want to put something out in the ether about this man that you unfortunately will never get to meet.
He passed away from cancer on my Mothers birthday, May 4th, in 2003. It's been nine years and counting - and my brain still can't seem to wrap around the fact that that number is only going to get bigger.
His birthday falls on Veteran's Day here in the U.S. For some strange reasons, I happen to have eaten my lunch about a dozen times in my life next to the Vietnam Memorial in D.C. to people watch. Most of the time people are just walking by it, sometimes they stop to take pictures, sometimes they stop and look at it for a moment before moving on to chasing pigeons. More than once, however, I've seen a grown man walk up to the wall like he were approaching a casket at a funeral, clutch it to steady himself and burst into tears.
That's how I feel about my Dad's death. Most people don't know anything about it, a chosen few were aware of it and moved on to the point where it's just occupying a dark shelf in the back of their minds. For me, I've seen too much and I remember it all. If I think about it too hard the Earth becomes unsteady, and as long as I live he'll never be another name or a statistic that I can easily pass by.
Watching cancer is to watch a monster. It's like your loved one has turned to sand by the ocean, and as sure as you can measure the ticking of a clock you watch the ocean rise up and slowly take little bits of them away, one wave at a time. In the moment you don't even care where 'away' is, because all you know is that it's not with you. You're overwhelmed with the sense that they're communing with something you can't see, something you've forgotten and they're remembering.
Losing a parent is something I know some of you know plenty about. And I'm sure I can speak for all of us who are a part of that particular horrid club, it's not one you imagine being a member of quite so young (I joined at 21). It's both a comforting and horrible fact to know that eventually, everyone will be a member. They'll all feel differently about it when it happens, but everyone will eventually understand.
My Dad was the strongest person I've ever, or will ever know - physically, emotionally, you name it. I know those just seem like words that people say - but believe me, he's the strongest person a lot of people have ever known. The only ever time I genuinely saw him break down was when he was sick and apologizing to me for ever putting me in the position to experience losing him. (And while I genuinely hate having lost him, I am nothing but grateful for every moment I had him - 21 years with him was a thousand times greater a gift than a lot of people have in a lifetime with a father).
For me, joining the loss club meant realizing that the center does not hold, that anything and everything can be taken away from you in the blink of an eye. Everything, everywhere, ends. And as anyone in our infertility club will tell - the hardest part of loss isn't necessarily forcing yourself to go on with your life, but it's in re-entering the normal world and realizing that people just kept on living theirs after everything was taken away from you. The world did not stop nor is it going to be any gentler with you because yours did.
My husband missed meeting my Dad by 8 months. When people ask how I knew that Bub was 'meant' for me, part of my response is always that he had lost his Dad at the exact same age as me (to the month) and that he was the first person who told me it was going to be okay who I could believe. He's also a man in every sense of the word, much as my Father was. Had they met, they would have loved each other.
Of course I want to talk about my Dad's life and what a good person he is - but as any of you who have had a miscarriage will understand, even when you try to focus on the beginning or the middle of a story, when it's a sad one the end always has a way of finding you.
My Dad was kind of hysterical.
He wasn't like me in the outgoing kind of way. He was thoughtful, and chose his audience but when he had one, he was hysterical.
He would persistently suggest whenever a boy came over to my house that he was going to put on his neon shorts from the 80s, his Stetson hat and cowboy boots. Occasionally he would come find me in the house wearing that outfit and do a little jig.
If we were driving (and it's a known fact that he was the worst driver) and I wasn't paying attention, he would scream out of nowhere "Jenny! Jenny! LOOK! LOOK! OH MY G-D!". I would yell "WHAT?!" in a panic, and then he would casually point out the window and say "a tree".
Whenever I would leave the house he would say, word for word, "look both ways before crossing the street and watch out for people running red lights".
Once, in a blizzard, he walked a mile just to get me tampons.
Apropos of nothing, he would make a point of every few days hugging me, kissing me on my cheek and saying "you make it all worth while".
He never talked down to me about anything - politics, sex, my ridiculous teenage problems or whatever random Jenny thought I had. Not once, in my entire life, did he ever make me feel like anything other than charming, capable, smart and loved.
He taught me that defensive driving is the way to drive.
He taught me that there are people on this planet who can eat beets raw (disgusting but true).
He taught me that I'm capable of outfoxing any man at anything.
He taught me that the people who run around screaming "you should be afraid of me!" are never the ones you should actually be afraid of, but the ones to be pitied.
He taught me that there are moments in this life that require absolute seriousness, and so when there's a moment that doesn't, you shouldn't take it so seriously.
He taught me that I am a force to be reckoned with - to this day when things get hard I think "Jenny, Dad would've had the utmost confidence that you can handle this".
He taught me so many things that if I spent my time thinking about why I have made any choice in my life, Dad would always be somewhere in there.
One thing he could never quite convince me of in life is country music. He was more of a CCR, Rolling Stones kind of guy, but he did have a tendency to sing "On the Road Again", and tried many times to convince me of the validity of Mr.'s Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash. I remained unmoved.
After he died I had a hard time letting myself get truly emotional about it - it's just not my way. I think both of my parents would prefer it if I didn't try to be strong all the time and just let things out, but that was especially true of my Dad. A little bit after he died, someone showed me this Johnny Cash video. I burst into genuine tears, felt every bit of it all at once and thought "damnit, you win". (Watch, it's beautiful).
So for you, Daddy.
And I would trade every last bit of my empire of dirt for just one more day with you.