You would have enjoyed the day today. April entered 2020 with sun and warmth, promising light and life. I went to the post office to drop off a couple letters. Not gonna lie it was nice to drive again. Rolled the windows down, hair whipped in the wind, radio bumped on max volume. I decided to cruise around a bit, thinking I’d make a big loop to get back home. Quite unintentionally, I ended up at the graveyard.
It had been a while since I visited you there. I go back and forth with what I think about it, whether I believe in the value of even having a grave. Today I concluded it is a good thing. I can remember you and can hold onto our memories without a grave, but the truth is there is another level of intentionality being there. Not just seeing your gravestone alone but all the others as well. And let me just add I feel like I should apologize when I walk through, as if I have stepped on someone’s foot or something. There were two freshly dug graves right by yours. I looked down at the dirt and then all of a sudden found I was looking back up at myself. It was my grave.
It sounds morbid, but honestly, it was frightfully enlightening. I don’t know if people who work in funeral homes and other services in the business of death get into it for this reason, but it occurred to me when you are physically very near to the reality of death all the time, there is abundant life. Now, does this entice me to want to work at a funeral home? Absolutely not. I am very aware of my emotional capacity, and presently, at least, I would not have the patience and empathy for it. However, I have a newfound understanding and regard for those who do. A sincere thank you to all. This sentiment is true for everyone though. If we treat death like some distant kryptonite to avoid at all costs lest it take everything from us, it undoubtably will. If we accept death as it truly is, an everyday reality and possibility without the ability to rob us of anything unless we let it, then it is laid naked and bare before us. Then, as Dumbledore tells Harry, we won’t pity the dead, but the living, and “above all, those who live without love.”
At the house next to the graveyard, a little girl was playing outside. Her dad must have been out there with her. I couldn’t see through the vines on the fence separating the properties, but I heard an occasional high-pitched yell, “daddy!”
After you died, mom seemingly always referred to you as daddy. Maybe it was just to me, but it lit a consuming rage in me like when Hades gets mad in Hercules and his whole body goes up in flames. I don’t ever remember calling you that and if I did, she had no right to use it now. I was the one who had lost my father, not her. It wasn’t her daddy she lost. I am not trying to make mom’s grief over you illegitimate or lesser. Her pain was and is still very real. You and she were one. What remains without you?
My purpose is reflecting and explaining why this tore me in two. And the reason is I never let myself be the little girl who called out to her daddy. I resided in the bitterness that this ability was taken from me when you got sick. I had no choice but to depend on myself, feign hopefulness for mom and help take care of you. The truth is, though, nothing was taken from me that I didn’t give away.
In college, my freshman year I believe, I met with Kelsey Davis, our goalkeeper coach. Her small cubicle within the athletic offices on Pond Street was a mini oasis. Between homesickness, dissatisfaction with game results, and navigating not only team but college dynamics, her little cubicle overflowed with discussion, sighs, laughter and good quotes. One day I came for one of our usual meetings, and it turned out something had been brewing silently beneath the surface of my conscience. I forget the proceedings of the conversation. Somehow, Kelsey landed on this question, “who takes care of you?”
Whatever had been brewing immediately erupted, as if a chemical reaction had occurred when those words hit my brain and traveled through every nerve straight to my soul. I think the proper term for a reaction that releases heat is combustion (chemistry 1&2 freshman year was a while ago and I had great teachers but have since tried to forget the experience). Well, I combusted. I started bawling for a reason I still could not name. I remember telling Kelsey part of the truth. Not because I didn’t want her to know the whole truth, I didn’t know the whole truth myself. Seven years later and I am still piecing it all together. I told her I just needed my dad to love me; I needed to tell him all I wanted from him was his love. I was aware it burdened you that you couldn’t be like other fathers. You couldn’t fly to games or come for parent’s weekend. When we drove to Texas for preseason in the summers, we would go to restaurants, and you would watch us eat, as it had become dangerous for you to swallow. You couldn’t help me move into my dorm or walk on the stadium field and feel the grass tickle your toes. Consider not being able to love physically, by doing. This was your burden.
I remember calling you on the phone later in the day or week.
“Dad, I just wanted you to know that I just want your love. I don’t need you to do anything else for me.”
I was already a bit nervous saying this out loud because it was much more intimate than I was accustomed to being, even with my family. You and I were not the emotional ones to start. Our hard heads and stubborn hearts often collided with each other. I couldn’t handle the pause, so I practically exhaled in one breath the same thing in different words, hoping this time there would be a response.
“Thank you, missy.”
This memory played in my mind as I stood at your grave. The other part of the truth I didn’t know to tell Kelsey unveiled itself when the little girl next door exclaimed “daddy.” I had given up being your little girl. Your disease didn’t take it from me. Not even your death has taken it from me. I asked for your love, but I didn’t let myself depend on it; I didn’t run to it wailing after scraping my knee or being rejected by Adam to play with him and his friends. I didn’t rest my head on it as my eyelids began to droop or when my neck could no longer bear the sorrows weighing my mind.
Since your death, I have asked God (accused and fumed more so) how He expects me to be His daughter when I no longer have a father to be a daughter to on earth. How can I know Him as my Father without a father to model for me. How can I cry out to Him, Abba, daddy, when He let you get sick and utterly dependent, forcing me to become a woman before I even had my first period. How do I have childlike faith in Him as my Father when He let you die before walking me down the aisle.
I didn’t know what I was asking for over the phone with you that day, truly. Of course, you had already been loving me my whole life, from the moment you wanted my name to be Lauren since it started with an “L” like yours to the moment before your death you told Adam you dreamed about scoring a goal. What I was really asking that day was to be your little girl again.
Lord, I see now it is us that give up being your little girl or little boy. We think wisdom and maturity bring us closer to You, and maybe they do to an extent, but You call us Your children. You delight in us and take care of us solely as Your beloved babes.
“…and a voice came out of the heavens; ‘You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.” [Mark 1:11]
“…you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God…” [Romans 8:15-16]
I love you daddy,
Your Missy babes