Memories and Representations of the Dad I Lost Too Soon

woman walking in cemetery

This year marks the 22nd anniversary of my dad’s death. I was 17 and entering my last year of high school when I got the call that there had been an accident. A week later, I was standing beside his hospital bed, holding his hand as they turned off the machines and he took his last breath. Since that moment, I have graduated high school, moved to college, gotten engaged, broken off that engagement, graduated college, met my future husband, got engaged, got married, bought a house, got a dog, and gone to grad school. I have acted in several productions. I have found a great community. I have traveled near and far, both solo and with others, and learned a ton about who I am and who I want to be. My life is a good life. 

But every now and then I miss my dad so fiercely it hurts.

Because he is on my mind in some way a dozen times a month or more, here are some lessons I’ve learned over the last 22 years.

Grief will surprise you.

If I’m completely honest, I didn’t really deal with my dad’s death for probably the first year or more after he passed. Because my parents divorced when I was very young, I don’t have any memories of us all as a family. He and my stepfamily lived about two hours away, so, after the funeral, I was able to avoid everything and jump back into my “regular” life. I thought I had been sad long enough, and I tried to move on. But grief does not operate on a normal timetable. Grief pops up when you least expect it and can ruin a day quickly. To this day, grief creeps in and I wonder why I’m in a bad mood. Then it will hit me – oh, I’m sad. 

You never quite stop missing someone.

Even though he has been gone a long time, I still miss my dad. I wonder what he would think of my life now. Would he be proud of me? Would we be close? Honestly, would we have anything to talk about? I look at my husband and wish he could have met my dad. There are times I catch myself thinking of something funny he said or did when I was growing up that no one else really remembers. Who he was as a person still influences me, even though we really didn’t get to spend that much time together. I had just gotten to the age where we could have “real” discussions, and then he was gone. 

Rose-colored memories and bright futures.

Over the years, I realized that my memories of my dad are a little cloudy – and a little rose-colored. We didn’t always agree or see eye to eye. He probably wouldn’t understand my faith and why I live the kind of life I live. I’m pretty sure we would disagree on a lot of things if he were still alive. But, without him, I wouldn’t be here. After his death, I lost touch with an entire side of my family. I’ve slowly reconnected with my half siblings and my stepmom, but it has taken time. We still don’t get together nearly often enough, and I still don’t always know what’s going on in their lives. But, we’re trying. I love them dearly and am so proud of them all. 

It’s okay to still be sad.

After the first couple of years, I didn’t think I was allowed to still let my dad’s death bother me. It had been years, so why hadn’t I gotten over it? In the last few years, though, I’ve realized that moving on from the pain means that I have to acknowledge it in the first place. I can tell early in August (the month he died) whether it will be a good year or a bad year when the anniversary rolls around. There isn’t a formula to figure it out; it’s something subconscious that starts in my head and heart and builds until I acknowledge it. I don’t think I’ll ever quite get over missing him, but I’m learning to live in the place where that absence is real.

Cherish what you still have.

Losing my dad when I was so young taught me one important lesson: don’t take your people for granted. I think I do a better job loving my mom, stepdad, half-siblings, and stepmom now than I did when I didn’t realize how easy it would be to lose them. Because I know the pain of loss, I make sure my people know they matter to me. I love with my whole heart, even when I know it could hurt, because hurting hearts still work. Even when we lose people in our lives, loving them is still worth it. 

I miss you, dad. And I love you.

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