When My Dad Died

Every year at this time I get a little melancholy.  It’s the time of year between my father’s birth and his death.

I think of this time as the Season Of My Dad.

He was born on September 28th and he died on October 11th.

There seems to be truth to what I was told after he died.  You never get over it, you just learn how to deal with it.  I hope this writing gives you a sense of love and appreciation.  I’ve learned since his leaving us that what he left us is of value still.   And likely, I appreciate it more now, then during the living of it.   We didn’t see it coming.  I had never lost anyone this close to me.   Though “moments” have always been important to me it wasn’t until dad died that I realized how necessary they are to survive the loss of someone you love.

September 1998 we celebrated dad’s 65th birthday.   At my house.

It was a very good night.   A no stress kind of party and night.  It was perfect weather.  Dad was pleased we were there just for him.  We had a cookout/pot luck.   Interestingly, we had fireworks.   When we were children dad used to get fireworks for the 4th of July and set them off in our backyard.  For us.  I’m pretty sure we were cool like that.  The neighbors would come over.  But this night, one of his kids was setting them off for him.   I remember him taking the green plastic chair (remember this chair) and moving it, sitting in it to quietly watch while one of his son’s set off fireworks.

The grandkids were happy to be out in the country, with cousins, and little restrictions.  Four wheeler rides.  No noise restrictions.  Just playing and fun.

We had a wonderful evening.

The day of his actual birthday I was driving home from work.  I was pulling in to the lane that led to his house and my house.  It was private property and no other houses were there.  I saw him coming out of the lane so I pulled over as he pulled up alongside me.  He was heading out to the Eagles, one of his favorite gathering places.  I asked if he had heard from any of the “other kids” for his birthday, and wished him a happy birthday.  He said no, his phone wasn’t working.  It dawned on me that I had passed a telephone repair crew at the intersection.  I told him about this and knew there would be no phone service.  This was just prior to the cell phone boom.  We chatted a minute but I could tell he was on his way so I said my good byes.

It was the last time I spoke directly to my dad.   I worked days.  Dad usually “went to town” in the evening.   Our contact was usually by window.  A honk from him and a wave from me.

It was my custom at night to sit at my desk in my living room, by the front window, after my children went to sleep.  I would read and write my emails.   If dad drove by I would flip up the curtain and stick my hand up and wave.   Dad was a non-intruder.  He did not believe in “dropping in” or “disturbing” people.  We could never get him to believe he was not a disturbance, but a welcome sight.   But he would toot the horn or flash his lights if he saw me.

One day in October after his birthday mom came for a visit.   My parents were divorced.   It had been years since the divorce.  They had no communication.

My mom and my sister and I spent some time going shopping (not my idea) and eating (probably my idea).  When we returned to my home we sat on the porch.  On our green plastic, four legged chairs.   My mom sat in one chair, the green plastic chair next to her was empty.   My sister and I sat across from her in the other 2 green plastic chairs.

Before mom left we talked about her and dad.   “I wish I could go say hi to your father but I know he wouldn’t like that.”   She told us how dad use to love to play cards.  I had no idea.  I did not recall ever seeing dad play cards.  I wish I had known that.   It was a very nice talk about dad.  I could tell she really did wish she could have said hello to him.  When she got up to leave, she walked down the steps from the porch.

The empty green chair next to her started to rock forward.  And back.  And forward.  Remember, it is sitting on four legs.   I said to my sister “look at that chair”.   She looked, mom was getting in her car to leave.  We both looked at the chair as it went back, and forward one more time, then stopped.   My sister said “well whoever was in it left”.

Mom drove away.

Sister went home.

I went to work hanging things on my daughter’s bedroom wall that I had bought while out shopping.

The phone rang.   One of dad’s friends who had been expecting him last night called my sister to tell her he did not show up and they couldn’t get hold of  him.  Sister said we would go check.  She called to tell me.

I went outside and waited for my sister to walk to my house.  We then walked to his house.

Dad was a very private man.   He kept his house locked even when he was awake and sitting there.  We knocked.  No answer.  We both had keys to the basement door.  I had done this numerous times over the years.  I’ve had to let myself in to do something for him, or to wake him up.

We went in through the basement.  Up the stairs.  To his bedroom.   Where he lay sleeping in the arms of God.

Dad was in a better place.

We, however, were in an unknown place.  We entered unknown territory.  Unknown feelings.

A world without dad.

But.

It also started a chain reaction that brought out the best of what dad did for us, gave to us and was, to us.

Every single one of his eight children converged on dad’s home.  Whether local or from out of state-we were drawn to dad’s place.  To one another.

We filled his house.  My house.  My sister’s house.  We were together for a solid week.

We started to grieve.   Together.

This would have made dad very happy.   Not the grieving part.  The together part.  One thing dad took great pride in was having eight children.    There was pride in us as individuals and pride in us as the mass of Irish Catholic off spring of his.

Decisions had to be made.  We made them.  No fighting or bickering.  Compromise.  Differences?   Yes.  But nothing that we didn’t work through.

The funeral home was full of music dad loved.  And we all knew what music he loved.  We could sing songs together and know it was dad’s music.

We each took pen to paper to write down funny memories of dad.  I still have those papers.  And we crafted a eulogy of laughter for him.   As we sat in the church and the oldest of us gave a wonderful eulogy the eight of us, his children, sat, laughing out loud, with tears running down our faces.  He was funny.  And he gave us that.  Thank you dad.   If not for that laughter I have no idea how we would have survived.   Later we found out there were others in the church who could not hear the eulogy.  It was a large church.  Bad acoustics.  And us laughing.   It made for some explaining to others as we gathered together later in the day.

The eight of us rode in a limousine together to the cemetery.  I had volunteered us all to be pall bearers.  Dad would have appreciated this.   On the way to the cemetery we each donned one of dad’s wool plaid shirts.  We exited from the limousine together.  Resembling him in our dad wear.   We carried him, together, to his resting place on earth.   But it’s just a space for us here.   It’s a place to mark he was here.  Though he will be remembered here by a different means.   By people with memories.  Marked in our hearts.

When we left the cemetery we went to a bar.  A bar that had already been closed and would soon be demolished and no longer a part of a small town’s make up.  No more gatherings.  No more cheese plates with dad.  No more home baked rolls or cinnamon rolls.  Yes, that is what some of us went to bars for.  The owner had a 12 pack of dad’s beer in the cooler.  He served his last ever to be served beer in his bar -to us.  In memory of  our dad and his friend.

It was a fitting tribute to his friend who sat across from him for years.  A fitting tribute to dad who himself had owned numerous bars.   I don’t even drink and I had a beer.   It was not good.  But it’s part of the picture.  Part of the memories.

The years since, I’ve learned about grief and mourning.  It doesn’t go away.  It doesn’t get easier to handle.  Though I do believe you learn how to handle it with more strength.   I’ve spent these past years thinking about dad.  Wondering about his life before “us”.  Wondering about that part of his life that I didn’t pay attention to or know about.  As a child we don’t know about or even picture our parent’s lives without “us”.  We just assume their lives are all about us.

I have spent these years wondering about decisions he made in regards to work and career.   How did he decide to start a business?  How did he have the courage?  Why did he go to school, then leave to go to the Army?  I always thought he loved the Army.   To learn after he died, by reading his letters to his parents, that maybe he didn’t love the GI life so much.  But he sure enjoyed holding GI Parties for us kids!  And no,  we didn’t dress up like soldiers and play army.   GI Parties were all about cleaning!  Yeah we were fooled by that too.

How’s come all I ever heard him do was brag on my brothers?  Just to find out after he died my brother said all he heard was him bragging about me.  Really?

Why did he insist on wearing white socks with his black shoes?   Though we honored his “style” as he was dressed for eternity, we put black socks in his casket with him.  We also sent with him a roll of quarters so he could always call us.  We made sure he had a beer and a Diet Pepsi.  We sent grass from the farm.  Pictures of the grandkids.   And quite a bit more.  You would have thought him to be an Egyptian Pharaoh  and not an Irish Catholic-almost became a priest-but chose fatherhood instead-man of the twentieth century.

I’ve spent all of these years since his death pestering my uncle about their lives as children.  I found out my dad fought with his brother.  That’s right dad, we know now that your eight children did not invent sibling fighting.

I always felt I knew the man as my dad.   Since his passing I’ve learned about my dad the man.

He was friends with people I never knew.

He had jobs I never knew about.

He was a kid once too.

He played cards.

He use to travel by train.  And bus.

He taught my Grandfather about hockey.

His leaving us was quite by surprise.  And I’ve grown enough in the last few years to know that what happened was what happened.  It was part of a plan greater than us and one that we didn’t have a say in.

Every year at this time I get sad about his passing.   But I am fortified by what he gave us.  Dad could tell a great story, he could give a wicked quiet lecture to put a hurting on your ridiculous and selfish ways, he could own up to all that he felt he did wrong or knew he did wrong.  He wasn’t perfect.  He was as flawed as any of us.  His laughter and jokes were more than just a passing moment.  His lessons in morals and values, his strengths and his failures in life, they were moments he lived.  And all moments he shared with us, passed on to us.

To help us live a life without him.

But always we have him as part of our lives.

Because he left

But he never left us.

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62 thoughts on “When My Dad Died

  1. I feel the same about my father, he never left. We had an amazing relationship and I’m blessed from it. Lovely post, Colleen. ❤

    • Thank you Paulette. I know we’ve talked about our dad’s before. This is a revision of a much earlier post of mine. This time of year I can’t help but think of him even more. And I feel the blessings much more than the regrets and questions and grief. Here’s to both of our fathers. ❤

  2. Profoundly touching. You are in my thoughts and prayers. I love you.

  3. Colleen, I think you know how this post affected me. I’m in tears. So beautifully written, this tribute to an amazing man, your dad. The chair rocking, they say, or so I have read with animals, when those leave us, their soul still stays around for seven days, just to make sure we are okay. Your line it’s just a space for us.. A place to mark he was here says so very much. I am glad you laughed at the Service. Celebrating his life. Hugs to you and your family. Remembering him how you have, knowing that he lives within you and will always be a part of you… This is a poem I wrote for a service which I shared on meditatingmumy’s post, as she remembered her dad. I wish to share it with you also.

    J.M Tacken

    I wish I could put my arms around you
    Just once more ~ is all I ask
    To hear your voice ~ to see your smile
    To hear my name ~ to see you laugh

    Each child will lose their parent
    We have known that all along
    But now that it has happened
    I am empty and forlorn

    I didn’t wish to see you suffer
    Or live your life in pain
    But oh how we miss you dad
    My life will never be the same

    I am so grateful for what you gave me
    How you helped to lead the way
    A shoulder for me to lean on
    You taught lessons every day

    A father means so much
    I only hope you knew
    How very much you were loved
    How each second I miss you

    So when we meet again
    I’ll run to you with open arms
    Tears of joy not sadness
    I’ll kiss your cheek & hold your hand

    And be the child I used to be
    Who loved & needed you
    My friend ~ my strength
    My support in life ~ my beautiful loving dad

    Hugs xxx

  4. I think losing a parent is a part of life but yours was certainly taken quite soon and suddenly. At least there didn’t seem to be much suffering. After reading this, it’s so obvious that he does live on in you. What a wonderful thing that is.

    • Thank you Marissa. It’s wonderfully funny, that I can see so much of him in each of my siblings. I can ‘see’ his physical reflection and his mannerisms. He truly hasn’t left us.

  5. This is an absolutely beautiful and wonderful tribute to your dad Colleen. I’m sure he is in heaven smiling reading this because you are so right, he is still a part of you here and now! I enjoyed learning about your wonderful father and about your life as being a part of his. Well done and awesome!

    • Thank you Priceless. I am honored that anyone would take the time to learn about him (this is one of my longest posts!). It’s actually one I revised from a few years ago. I just liked it well enough I didn’t want to try and write something ‘better’ when this says so much. So thank you for getting to know him. 🙂

  6. Janet says:

    I hope he’s having a beer with Bob and Little Tony.

  7. Jay says:

    I’m sorry you lost him but glad you have so much to remember him by. Thank you for sharing.

  8. lbeth1950 says:

    I am glad you had him.

  9. Ahh a beautiful tribute to your dad Colleen.

    I have a confession. I don’t normally read long posts. Your title caught my attention though. And I am so glad I read this post Colleen.

    And just so you know, from what I’ve read here on your blog, you have a lot of your dad in you. I love that part on the porch with your mom and the rocking green chair. ❤
    Diana xo

  10. markbialczak says:

    Thank you for writing this and sharing it with us, Colleen. I feel the love. I think so many of the attributes you boast of in your dad, well, I see them pouring out of your blog here every day. MBC, sorry for your loss, still. Oh, what a dad you have. ❤

    Be ready for another Freshly Pressed. You heard it from your MBM first.

  11. reocochran says:

    Just the perfect way to “close my night” and go to sleep, Colleen. You said the most straightforward but loving words a man would love to hear his child say. ♡
    That 4 legged chair rocking is a cool “sign” he made it to Heaven. When my Grandpa died a cardinal came to sing and follows me to every house I go to. My Dad’s sign is in the stars, as you already know.
    I am thankful for your having a good family, mother and father. You have strong roots and branches, too. I love the flannel shirts, laughter during his eulogy and having a beer together. 🙂

    • Thank you Robin. I do believe it was a sign, one of many. I love your cardinal sign as well. These things really helped me Robin. I am very thankful as well for all of the good things I have in my life, whether they are here, or safely tucked in to my heart.

      Here’s to our fathers Robin.

  12. What a beautiful tribute to your father Colleen. I love how your love for him still make him live in your heart.
    In few months I will live in same kind of time, as you do now. My father became only 54.

  13. niaaeryn says:

    A beautiful tribute and wonderful story telling, felt like I was there in the church. He never left any of you and never will, but the missing, I like how you phrased it, never really goes. Also, loved the flannel shirts.
    :hugs : and hot cocoa during this time. May you find even more moments of him this season and may you find him with laughter. (I hope that comes across right my communication skills have been blew lately). :hugs : Colleen

  14. Sue Vincent says:

    They remain a part of us and never leave. Hugs x

  15. jmgoyder says:

    What an absolutely fantastic post/tribute – I feel very moved by this as my dad died when I was 19. You are such a gem.

  16. NotAPunkRocker says:

    ((Hugs)) to you hon ❤

  17. ksbeth says:

    what a beautiful tribute to your father, a man you clearly loved. i love the gifts he left you with for eternity, especially the laughter – hugs

  18. Gibber says:

    Wow very powerful. He came and said “see you later” through the chair and you also are a great story teller so you keep him with you and introduce him to us through that gift he passed on to you. I’m truly sorry that you lost him.

  19. Patrick says:

    Very touching and nice, Pinky. I’m glad that I saved this and was finally able to read and enjoy it. Love you!

  20. Debra says:

    It must be a great comfort to have so many siblings and to find friendship with them! It’s in times like the loss of a parent that you can turn to each other, and I’m sure the grief you all feel is demonstrated differently between you all, but similarly strong. The story of the chair rocking after your mother walked away is one of those hair-raising moments. There’s so much we cannot see. And I think this is a loving tribute to a very special father, Colleen. He must have been to have raised such a large family and to leave this world with them feeling that loss as significant, even years later. ox

  21. Jim McKeever says:

    Colleen, what a beautiful tribute. The phrase “eulogy of laughter” will stick with me for some time. And the wool plaid shirts and the last beers ever served at that bar. Absolutely perfect. He did his job well, clearly.

  22. Oh how I love the plaid shirts. What a lovely, lovely, post honoring the memory of your dad.

    September is when I honor my parents. My mum’s birthday is in September, she no longer celebrates as my dad died a few days later. She smiles more now, it is 20yrs later but we will always remember and grieve and laugh. A loss I will carry until my last breath.

  23. Murph says:

    I have no idea how I missed this one!!!!! Boy do I remember his birthday party…and the picture of him in the green chair. I wish I could remember some of the conversations he and I had in his office on EN Broadway…but I can’t. I know it use to piss Shane off (haha) that I would hang with your dad and listen to him talk. I really always wanted to know him better. I am sad I never had that chance! Great blog 🙂 xoxo

  24. Beckalee says:

    This caught my eye because of the dates. My husband’s birthday is September 28th. And my mother’s is October 11th. I stayed because what you wrote was beautiful and I’m sure your dad would be honored by it. I cried because it felt true and earnest and even universal. Thank you for putting this out in the world for us to read.

    • Thank you so much Beckalee. What a kind and thoughtful comment. I think he would like it too, though the earthly dad would have pooh-poohed it out of embarrassment. But he would have appreciated it. 🙂

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