Grief, A Year Later

My father died a year ago today, the second day of Rosh Hashanah.

I dreamt about him earlier this morning. I was walking with Jo Jo in a parking lot towards our car, and as we approached I realized he was sitting in the left rear back seat, right behind the driver’s seat. It’s usually where Teddy sits, but instead of my four year old son bouncing up and down in his car seat there was my father, wearing his red checked short sleeved shirt and the trademark pen and paper in his front pocket.

Somehow the window was down and I reached through and grabbed his hand. He felt firm, his fingers so strong. I could see the freckles on his arms and the slivers of gray in his hair.

I know we talked for a few minutes, although I can’t remember what we said. He leaned forward and kissed me on the forehead. I could feel his warm breath and feel the cold metal of his glasses against my face.

And then I woke up and he was gone.

Teddy was lying next to me, his mouth slightly ajar, faintly snoring. He opened his eyes and we stared at each other for a second.  “Meow!” he said solemnly.

Then, “is it morning yet?”

I fumbled around for my glasses and phone. 6:03 AM. “Teddy, it’s not morning time yet,” I said, and then stopped. A year ago I’d woken up around the same time to hear my four year old niece crying, and then a minute later we’d gotten a call. We knew who it was, of course, before my mother even picked up the phone. My sister, telling us my father had just passed away. At 6:03 AM.

“It’s morning, little one,” I said, and Teddy snuggled up against me and we lay back down. He’s been coming into my bed now. I’m not sure if he’s wandering in in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning—when I wake up, he’s there.

It’s been a long, hard year. I grieved my father but I also grieved so much more—the loss of my marriage, the loss of our home life as I’d known it. And I wanted my father around so much, for his quiet reassurances, for his stoicism as I tried to navigate myself down a path I wasn’t quite sure was right.

But although he’s not around physically now, I feel his presence more than ever. And as everything is basically imploding around me, I feel stronger, more confident, more sure of myself and the path I’m going down than ever before.

I know my father is with me. I know he supports the turns our lives have taken. As often as I wax on about how I see my father in my children, particularly Teddy, the truth is I see him in me too. I’m my father’s daughter, after all. I have his stubbornness, his perseverance, and, I’m finally beginning to realize, his moral coding.

It’s been three hours since that dream, but no matter how hard I try, I still can’t remember what he said to me. I can close my eyes and remember how he looked—his grin, the faint bristles on his cheeks and chin, the strength of his grip on mine—but I can’t bring back those words. It’s more a sensation, really, a feeling that he was there, and that I was safe.

And of course he’s not here anymore, but I can take the essence of what was there and apply it to my own life. He was always the safe parent. The one who navigated us through life’s never ending obstacles. The parent who stayed with me all night, even night, when I was eight years old and in the hospital for a week with croup, dozing on a hard backed chair as I lay in an oxygen tent because he knew I would sleep more soundly if he was there. The parent who fished my Harvard application out of the trash and told me if I really wanted to go there, I should apply, because he knew I was capable of achieving anything I set my mind out to do. The parent who looked at me steadily when I cried over my infant daughter and said, “She will be capable of many things, including a tremendous amount of love, which is all that matters.”

He’s gone, but the moral fiber of him remains. It’s in me. It’s in my children. It’s in my mother and my sister and my sister’s children.

I am so blessed to have had this man in my life, to have had the gift of him as my father for 39 years.

I know he’s with me still, giving me courage for the months to come, giving me the tools so that I can be the safe parent I need to be for my kids.

Thank you, Daddy, for everything.