I was 22 years old when my father died, on May 23, seventeen years ago. I had just finished my last finals week of my undergraduate degree, and I was working the summer before heading off to graduate school, still planning my wedding in just over a week.
I was living with my soon-to-be-husband (and years later, soon-to-be-ex-husband). I came home from work one night, carrying a grocery bag with a frozen dinner for a late night meal, when my fiance called out to me as I headed to the kitchen, “Your mom called.” Then: “Your father died tonight.”
That was how I found out. Bluntly. I stopped briefly in the dark dining room, then moved on to the kitchen silently, stuffed my frozen meal into the freezer, and went back to the living room to get my keys. I lived about 20 minutes away from my mom back then, and I knew I needed to be over there.
I didn’t say anything on the drive over to my mother’s house. My fiance went with me, and I could feel him darting glances at me, waiting for tears, waiting for something. It wasn’t that I wasn’t feeling anything. Far from it. I just didn’t know what to do with it, so I didn’t do or say anything.
I was the first one there, out of the four kids. I called relatives to let them know. Over the next 24 hours, the house started to fill up as my brothers drove in or found a flight in. As I look back on it, it was the last time all four of us were in the same place at the same time. I really wish we would do it again, in better circumstances.
So much has changed since then. I got married, finished my graduate degree, got divorced, moved several states away. Seventeen years is a long time. Funny how, for 22 years, the date “May 23” had no meaning to me, but for seventeen years since, it means quite a bit.
I can’t pretend my father and I had a great relationship or that we were close. We fought a lot, and it’s only been since he was gone that I was able to see that we had anything in common at all. I don’t gloss it over or make it into something more glorious than it was, but I do believe he was trying, in his own way, near the end, as if he knew he didn’t have much time left.
My relationship with my father has a lot of question marks and regret. I was stunned when people who worked with him came up to me at the funeral and told me how he talked about me a lot and was proud of me. Really? At first I brushed it off as polite chatter, but then more of them told me the same thing. He certainly had the last laugh on me, because I definitely didn’t see that coming.
I find myself thinking about him a lot today. How things could have been. What they were. I worry about my mom and if I should ask her how she is today, or leave her alone, on the odd chance she isn’t thinking about it.
There is no deep, philosophical meaning or lesson to my post today. This is just what was on my mind, and I couldn’t turn it off.