Just after midnight on June 14, 2009, we lost my dad. Five years ago today...a handful of years. Admittedly, I struggle to remember the exact date. In fact when my uncle asked me a couple of weeks ago when it was, I had to look it up. I have some very dear friends who remember it much better than I do and for that I am thankful. I know, I know. It's completely odd that my brain is absolutely full of useless information, yet a significant date in my life is always a bit ambiguous. June 2 is the date that actually sticks with me the most. That's the day that he went into the hospital. In my gut (or maybe it was just a gray cocktail of fear and pessimism), I knew he wasn't going to come home. When he miraculously survived a bout with pneumonia and sepsis two years earlier, his doctor told us that rarely do people recover from sepsis once. Never twice.
There are times when it seems as if he's been gone forever, yet in others, it still catches me off guard that he's actually not here. I chalk it up to the randomness of grief. Yes, I know there are steps and stages that everyone experiences, but I'm not convinced that it's a linear process for us all. When daddy first died, I was a master of keeping myself busy with all sorts of distractions. Worrying over my mom and brothers. Focusing on grad school. Traveling with my boyfriend. Taking care of my dog. Getting right back to work. Whatever I could find to fill the space. At first I didn't even realize I was doing it, but about 9 months after he died, things began to unravel a little bit. Things had returned to "normal" even though normal is never the same when loss is involved. The quiet eventually caught up with me and it was deafening. I can vividly remember one night driving back to Athens from class. [I'm so glad I moved to Athens for grad school only to complete many of my classes in Lawrenceville] It was late and I tried to call several people but alas, no one answered. My radio stopped working for the love of pete so I had no other choice but to drive in complete and total silence...until the sounds of my ugly cry filled the void. It hurt but it was cleansing.
It's not typical holidays as one might suspect when I miss my dad the most. I think when you're missing a loved one at the table over Thanksgiving or a dad on Father's Day, you can brace yourself in advance to make the day easier. It's during the ordinary when I miss him the most. Scrolling through the radio stations and catching the end of a Bob Segar song. Reaching mile 12 of a half marathon in San Antonio and seeing a daughter running alongside her dad encouraging him every step of the way. Seeing an umpire walking off the field at a youth softball game. On a flight back from Chicago and the man sitting next to you reminds you so much of your dad that you have to choke back tears and distract yourself with the SkyMall so he doesn't think he's seated beside a total weirdo. Last week my family's cat fell ill very suddenly and passed away. Confession: I didn't even like the wirey and persnickety thing. When mom told me though I cried and cried and then cried some more. You see, dad got that cat for my brothers and mom and that cat sure loved my dad. She would follow him everywhere around the house like a dog follows its master so when she died, it was another layer of losing him.
I wish that I could say that I've learned something profound about loss that would benefit the masses. But I haven't. If anything, I've learned that the journey of grief is as personal and unique as our fingerprints. That's why to this day I still find myself at a loss for words when a friend loses a parent even though I wish for nothing but to be able to just fix it and make it better for them.
When I think about the five years that have passed since losing dad, there have been so many milestones reached and new memories made. It goes without without saying that I wish he was here for them all. I am thankful that our brains do have the capacity to cherish old memories while we maintain the spirit and drive to move forward so that we continue to create new ones. I cannot help but to think of that part in Finding Nemo when the fish with Ellen's voice (right?) says to just keep swimming when life gets you down. We will all go at a different pace and some of us do it with more grace than others. That's ok. What matters most is that we "just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming."