Hazelnut coffee always reminds me of my father. So do hummingbirds, tool belts, tubes of Chapstick, rutabagas, and inappropriate jokes at more inappropriate times….like for instance the text I just received at 9 a.m. from one of my favorite people in the world saying they already want a beer…my reply? “I’ve already had two.” Kidding of course…Dad would be proud. Make em wonder.
Coffee. I’ve had two of those today.
Last Saturday marked the five year anniversary of him leaving us all behind. A few days after that I had whispered to him as he lay in his coffin all prim and proper the following last words of love I would ever say to him: “Thanks. Thanks, Dad, for leaving me here…without you…. with all of these nuts.”
I miss him.
Today would have been his 63rd birthday. I wonder if he was still here what he would think of my life now…so much has changed since he’s been gone.
I’ve left a marriage.
I’ve moved away from my family to a very different town.
I’ve started doing yoga.
I’m not quite sure how he would process my changes. But, I do know I never would have done any of it if he were still here.
Since I was a little girl he always told me one thing over and over in subtle and not so subtle ways…Guard your heart. Had he survived the hell of cancer and was still here today I believe with all my heart I would have guarded his. I would not have left the marriage. I would not have moved. I would not have discovered yoga.
I would have fought with all my might to keep my chin up and find little things to make me happy just to be able to continue to survive the years and years of not feeling like I made the right decisions as a nineteen year old girl. I had too much pride to ever let my father know that I was hurting and sad and regretful. If he had ever known of my heavy hearted secret I kept to only my soul it would have shaken him to his core. I never could have mustered up the strength to make the decisions I’ve had to make these last handful of years knowing it would have crushed him.
It would have broken his heart.
So I guarded it.
I realize this is quite mentally as well as physically unhealthy. I didn’t do it just for him. I did it for my boys, my church, my friends, my I’ll-get-through-this-and-one-day-will-wake-up-and-realize-I-sure-am-swell-with-all-my-decisions-lie told myself daily.
My dad’s death was my tipping point.
It softened me. My shell cracked and emotions I never knew I was capable of seeped out. I tried for a while to sweep my emotional mess under the rug but it got too difficult. The fractures became too much and my walls came crumbling down. I opened up and let me…the me I hid from others as well as myself pour out into a giant puddle of raw emotions laid out for my world to see. And life, as it should,went on.
I cannot say that his death changed me as a person. No, it enhanced me. Finally I allowed myself to emerge from this “happiness” bubble I surrounded myself in. Bubble:Can you say “bubble” without smiling? I mean really, who doesn’t see a bubble and not smile…let alone actually saying that fun word? My bubble made me “happy”.
I enveloped myself in this big bubble of friendship, kids, hobbies and responsibilities. I loved it. They were amazing and wonderful distractions to something I thought I could get over: Regret.
Some things in that bubble of mine were just blisters though…and a blister tends lead to a callous. I became hardened, stubborn, and unfortunately unresponsive as ways to protect myself. This is a terrible place to be.
Then my dad died.
As I just said, my dad’s death didn’t change me, it enhanced me. It brought to surface things I had been needing to face for years. Only this time I needn’t worry about disappointing my favorite person in the whole wide world. A few years ago my counselor, one of the greatest blessings in my life, said something to me that was a major ah-ha! moment. Probably the biggest one in my life so far. She said that maybe my dad’s passing was his last gift to me…a gift so that I could be free to find myself and let go of the “should be” and “should do” that I placed on myself over the years.
He taught me to fish, to ride a bike, to drive. He showed me how to appreciate the little things like sunrises, warm coffee, hummingbirds. He encouraged me to work hard and to love hard. But I also learned how to be hard on myself from him. He was a man of high self standards and pride. Inherited this bittersweet trait from him.
The thought of disappointing him was way below the surface of my soul. Something only to be discovered during some much needed therapy sessions and a fantastic excavator. The day my counselor made that eye opening statement I felt like an enormous boulder was lifted off my gut that was weighing me down for for years. I swear I could see my dad, smiling a knowing smile, wearing his tool belt and tipping his hard hat, working the crane that removed it from my body. A huge self imposed weight removed so that I could stand up tall again….
Some days the amount I miss him is almost as unbearable as the thought of having that boulder back upon me. But I know I could never carry it again.
And I don’t have to.