I have sat in my grief for the past five years and thought about a lot of things concerning my dad's death. I have sat in traffic and cried in my car alone. I have laughed and grieved with my family about my father and all his antics. I have shared pictures and stories with my boys. I have thought of and missed my dad everyday.
Five years later, I have come to realize that grief was along the ride to teach me. Not to torture or to drive me crazy, just to teach. Grief has been a simple teacher. I haven't learned anything complicated or high intellectual. Just some basic stuff. In fact, as I sit here and write this I wonder if it is even worth it to write about the lessons that I have learned because they are basic run of the mill stuff filled with cliques and Hallmark moments. But I can't remember any other lessons that have rung clearer to me or that now seem to be more real.
1. Life does not stand still for you. It rolls right over you and doesn't look back. I had to decide if I was going to hang out by a window in my house and watch it go by or if I was going to run out and play with it. It has taken me a while and I am still working on it, but I have decided that grabbing a seat on the that roller coaster is a good idea. I have started outfitting my life in a way that I can savor a lot in every day. I take a picture most days to remember each day as something that was unique in and of itself. And I share it with people that I care about. As if to say, "Hey you, this is my day...how was yours? " I scrapbook actively to remember and cherish. I actively remember that day flying across the country and racing to say goodbye to my dad and losing the race. As my mom said, you will never win the race against death. So don't try. Love now. Say what you need to say now. Learn to be at peace with it all...now. Start creating a life that in the end makes you smile and you love no matter what...now. That is my goal.
2. In the end, there is so little that really matters. Let it go. Pick your battles. People can be really stupid and say stupid things. They can be catty and mean. They can be what I call "justice seekers" and try to right the wrongs of all that has happened, which in the end leads to one thing...more drama. They can judge in the name of religion or politics or for the mere fact that they think they are right. Whatever. As I stood at my father's grave and couldn't bear to sit down to face the casket, my cousin came and stood next to me and hugged me. That mattered. Caring about someone else's feelings matters. Even if you don't like them. Seeing the other side of the story matters. Saying your sorry matters. Drop the drama and grow some compassion. True compassion. The kind that is hard because it may not fit in with all the rules that you have set forth, but in the end it feels right with your heart. And if you can't do that, then find a hobby that takes up the time you have been spending on that stupid drama!
3. Love who you are and be cool with it. In the past five years, I have thought a lot about my dad's life and truly believe that my dad lived his to the fullest. He didn't give a rat's ass if someone liked him or not. He was a cowboy boot wearing, book reading, Truman lovin', pack rat happenin', Mississippi boy who could tell a mean story while smoking Sir Walter Raleigh tobacco in his pipe and cheap scotch in his glass. He could be abrasive, opinionated, and hard to live with sometimes. He cooked me the best breakfast potatoes, took out my splinters, combed my hair, and quizzed me on my world capitals. He was my dad. MY dad. The only one I had. And he loved me. For me. This realization has given me the freedom to start being cool with who I am. Love yourself a little bit more.
4.Actions speak louder than words, BUT your words still do matter. After my dad died, my family received cards, flowers, food, hugs, memories of others about my dad, visits from friends. Those things mattered. They were actions taken to show us that we mattered and that this wonderful man mattered and was loved and missed. And for those who didn't "show up". Well that also mattered. Or for those who had harsh things to say because they felt slighted or because we missed something or who were selfish with their words, that also mattered. You may feel that you "just have to" say something. That is when you should be questioning your motive and intention. What are you getting out of saying or doing something? Act in a way that you are proud of, speak up for what matters, say it with love and compassion, and think of the other person.
On that plane five years ago, as I sat next to a really nice man who bought me a glass of wine and talked to me the entire flight when I told him the purpose in my journey, I could never have imagined sitting here today and saying all of this. I was mad, nervous, terrified of what was happening to my world. But here I sit, still learning and chugging along with life. Life is good. I still cry in my car at times, although not as much. I keep one of my dad's signature red handkerchiefs in my sock drawer. I am working on a Shutterfly book of all my dad's pictures for my mom and brothers. I still think of my friend Jennifer and what she said to me the day my dad died. "No matter how old we are, we still want our parents to be proud of us". That still gets me with its truth.
Five years later...I miss my dad. I miss the smell of his pipe tobacco. I miss joking with my brothers about "the beast awakens" when my father would loudly get up in the morning. It breaks my heart that my boys don't get to see their grandfather. I miss his horseradish. But I have come to realize that he is here with me. I can feel him at times. Sunshine on my face. That is how he comes to me. And when all is said in done, I was lucky to have him in my life. And I hope he is proud of me. Love you dad!