I awoke that morning still annoyed.
My husband Tony and I argued terribly the night before. About something silly, as most arguments are.
At the time I was a stay at home Mom to our two children, ages 12 and 18 months old. My husband wasn’t due in to work until the afternoon, which only aggravated me more that I would be in his presence. He stayed in the living room watching TV and I figured our bedroom would provide the distance from him I needed. I started my daily cleaning.
The phone rang and glancing at the caller ID, I saw it was my sister Mona. I almost didn’t pick up because of my mood, but decided to anyway.
She asked me to put Tony on.
They frequently joked with each other, and I could foresee the start of another silly transaction between them. The last thing I wanted to do was give in and be the first to speak. Determined, I told her she could tell me and I would tell him.
She persisted, but I wouldn’t budge.
I was so focused on my anger, I didn’t even notice that she didn’t sound like herself and far from someone trying to have a giggle.
She finally tired of my stonewalling and blurted out: “Daddy died”.
Her words hit like knives.
I screamed, asking her what happened, and fell to the floor.
Tony rushed in and took the phone. Seconds later he held me and cried with me saying how sorry he was. For some reason I felt a sudden calm wash over me and I went into action mode as if on auto pilot.
I told him he would need to pick up our son David from school, then drive to my mother’s house where my family was gathering… and also where my father was. He had a massive heart attack in the bathroom.
We were an hour away.
I assumed his body would be removed by the time we got there.
After my husband left to get our son, I checked in on my daughter and took a shower. I think I was still numb and hadn’t fully processed the situation; if that’s possible.
I was 33 and had dealt with death. My Grandmother, my friend’s Dad, and a classmate of my son’s, but this was different. It had never been so personal.
My husband returned with David. I thought I would need to console a crying 12-year-old, but there were no tears on my son’s face.
Prior to our moving two years ago, he had been close to my Dad. They spent time together as grandfather and grandson. From shopping trips and mundane errands, to teaching him to ride a bike. They had a bond, so why wasn’t this kid a crumbling mess?
I wanted him to feel what I felt inside, even though you couldn’t tell it by looking at me. I realized later that he was reflecting the same to me. Keeping all of that pain on the inside.
We all got into the SUV and started towards my parents’ house, stopping at Burger King since I didn’t know if there would be something for the kids to eat there.
The truck arrived on my parent’s block. I could see a police car and what appeared to be an ambulance. There wasn’t any close parking, and the street was packed with cars. We stopped in front of the house and my sister’s boyfriend, Jerome, told me to let Tony park and he would take me to see my father.
It was then I realized he was still inside.
I fought back tears and got out of the car, repeating over and over that I didn’t want to see him like that.
We went in the house, which was packed with people on the stairs and the second floor. They were in the process of moving him. I heard my Aunt say, “This is his youngest daughter. Can you let her see him?” It felt surreal.
I moved almost robotic-like through the family and friends.
I saw my Mom in her green work scrubs looking lost.
I got to the bathroom doorway and saw my Dad on the floor. His face was so pale. His lips were purple. I knelt down and kissed his forehead. “Goodbye Daddy,” I said.
As I got up and made my way downstairs, thoughts ran through my mind.
My daughter is only 18 months old, he is supposed to be here as she grows up. I still need him.
I wanted to tell him how much I appreciate him. How sorry I was that I took him for granted and how I now understood what he was trying to do.
I wanted to tell him that I loved him and I knew he loved me. These thoughts weighed heavily as I realized I would never be able to say these things.
It was over. That was it.
One question stuck in my head for months after. “Is that really it?”, I would ask myself, knowing the answer but wanting it to be different. I felt guilty and frustrated that I had wasted so much time being furious at him and blaming him for God knows what.
He wasn’t perfect, but he was the only father I had ever known. I still ache thinking no one will ever accept me like he did. I had unconditional love from him. He was always there whether I wanted him to be or not.
Nine years later I still miss him like the first day. I try to honor him by remembering his passion and wisdom. Not a day goes by that I don’t use some little gem of knowledge he gave me.
I have come to understand that my relationship with my Dad is on-going. The seeds he planted continue to blossom through me and my children.
Being raised by a man like my father who loved his family so intensely, gave me the direction to choose a man like my husband. A brother who, like my Dad, has a strong sense of family.
While I miss my Daddy, I take great comfort in knowing that my daughter will also know that there will always be that man who loves her unconditionally. One who may not always agree with her choices, but will still show up when he is needed. Whether his presence has been requested or not.
I know my daughter is on her own journey, yet I take great pleasure in being on the front row of the very special relationship between a father and daughter.
Thank you Daddy.
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