Is it possible that some people affect our lives more after they die?
Can their absence make us realize what we have lost?
That’s obvious to me now.
You can tell people, until you are blue in the face, that they should enjoy their parents, grandparents while they’re here, because they won’t be here forever--”every day is a gift”--but no one can really understand the feeling of loss before the person is gone. And it changes over time.
It intensifies, wanes and then intensifies again.
For me, it has changed my life.
I will never be the same.
I think this is true in the case of our dad, because I think of him so often now--sadly--perhaps more than I did when he was among us.
Thank God for memories. They are so precious to me now.
I remember Dad’s laugh, his sayings, how he swore, his facial expressions, his mannerisms, his walk, the sound of his voice, his corny jokes.
“How do you make a hormone? Don’t pay her.”
And lately, the thing that comes to mind most of all is something he often said, while parting ways, in person or on the phone.
“Be good, Kerry.” (or Munchkin or Monster)
“Be good, Dennis.”
It was like a piece of sage advice, even though he maybe didn’t mean for it to be that profound.
And I certainly didn’t perceive it as a deep or spiritual message.
It was just something he said.
But, it strikes me that way now, when he isn’t here to say it to me anymore. It strikes me as a mantra--sacred and true and transformative.
Optimistic and action-oriented.
And I have started to say it to my students and to think it to myself with his voice in my head.
It’s an encouragement to keep a steady heart.
It’s an instruction to choose good over evil.
It’s a reminder that love prevails.
A company has made millions with the slogan, “Life is good” and I love the positivity of that phrase, but it almost insinuates that life isn’t really good, but we should constantly bolster ourselves with that message and convince ourselves that it is true so we can overlook the hard stuff. It’s a platitude.
Of course life is good.
It goes without saying.
It says so much more.
It is a directive--Be. Good.
Make good choices.
Be a good person.
Take care of the people you love.
Be a good samaritan.
Be a good citizen.
Do your best.
Don’t give up.
Don’t dwell on negatives.
Just make the world a better place.
Don’t just think about yourself and what YOU want all of the time.
Take care of yourself first, yes, but really be there for others and make sure your partner, your children, your extended family, have what they need.
Still have boundaries.
Yes, Dad had to have boundaries with a few people who would try to take advantage.
He showed us that important lesson, too.
But he still loved those people.
He didn’t shun them or shut them out.
They were still welcome in his house, in his life.
I have noticed a tendency within myself to feel guilty and ashamed that I didn’t value my dad (and my mom, too) enough while they were here.
I didn’t call enough.
Sending presents or cards sometimes felt like a chore.
I felt drained around them sometimes.
I noticed their flaws rather than their gifts.
I judged their lifestyle choices and the health problems that I believed were a result of those choices.
I often didn’t focus on the good.
And then I remember the phrase--Be Good--and it reminds me to STOP.
Stop that tape in your head.
When you are trying to be good, you notice when you are beating up on yourself about past behavior or attitudes and you just stop it.
You remember that the version of yourself that you are abusing
was doing the best she could
and it’s in the past.
You can’t change it.
And Dad would not want you to dwell in that place.
Just move on.
It’s a choice.
Make the right choice.
Thank you, Dad.
Thank you for going to work in the factory, day after day, year after year, midnight shifts and afternoon shifts and daytime shifts--all for your family.
Thank you for taking Mom shopping and travelling and to country music concerts.
Thank you for weathering so many storms in your life and not giving up.
That is a whole ‘nother story.
Thank you for loving me so much growing up.
I didn’t even realize how much you loved me until now.
I felt that love shining out of your eyes the day before you left.
And that memory is a gift that keeps on giving.
It’s sad, but uplifting at the same time.
And I know that you didn’t just love me that strongly,
But also Dennis and Pat and Mom and your brothers and sisters,
And nieces and nephews.
And your friends and co-workers (well, most of them).
You loved humanity.
You didn’t always understand the bad in the world.
You believed in evil.
But you didn’t linger on it.
Your love was so strong, and so true.
And I try to be like you, but I don’t always make it.
My love for my husband, children, brother, friends and others
often feels diluted by my own struggles and my own suffering.
I envy that amazing love you had for all of us.
So many times I thought you were a bit of a simpleton
Because you were a master of small-talk, always the weather.
But over the years, even before you passed,
I have realized that you were a highly evolved soul,
Because of these things I have mentioned here.
Your love, your perseverance, your strength and that constant reminder,
And I know you suffered at times, too.
But you didn’t take it out on others the way many of us can do.
You were more graceful than that.
Sure, you could be crabby and tired.
But you never went for the jugular like Mom and I could do.
You didn’t have that kind of deep anger inside of you.
You just soldiered on.
So at this Christmas time, the first for Dennis and I to be without you, Mom and Dad, I want to put in writing that your lives did matter, that you made the world a better place, both of you, just by loving the people in your lives the best you could and doing the best you could, one day at a time.
We miss you from the bottom of our hearts.
Thank you most of all for teaching me/us
For planting in our minds forever.
We won’t let you down.