3 years ago, I was spending a lot of time in Knoxville dealing with my (suddenly) dying father. This time of year is still hard on me because I spend a lot of moments thinking, “This time three years ago I was…” It all happened so suddenly that those weeks in February and March 2009 etched a permanent spot of anxiety in my heart and it’s hard not to look at the calendar and think about those days. The days in the hospital finding out his body was ravaged with cancer, the days at home as he came to the conclusion that he couldn’t continue with dialysis or chemotherapy. Then the weeks in hospice, everyone just…waiting.
I still miss him so much. I called my brother a few weeks ago and said, “I just did something I really wish I could call and tell Dad about, so you’re getting the call instead…” I do that often. At first I thought it was because I knew he would understand that need, as he would call Dad to tell him certain things too. But then I realized it’s because he’s a lot like Dad in that he’s sincerely interested in hearing about these new adventures, but he’s BETTER than Dad because he’ll actually talk back on the phone. As much as I loved my Dad, he was a DREADFUL phone person.
But those weeks in February and March, especially the ones he spent in hospice, were so hard that I often look back and wonder: HOW DID I SURVIVE?
But most of the times I think about my present and wonder: HOW AM I SURVIVING?
Because, while the pain of his death is not as raw or as fresh, the pain of missing him is still so strong. And it’s a different type of pain. The pain of losing him is the one that has faded over the last 3 years, but the pain of missing him? That pain seems to grow stronger. As the list of things he is missing grows, my agony over not sharing those things with him strengthens. And while it’s not a debilitating pain like the initial loss, it’s one that seems ever-present. It is always a part of me.
So, yes, time does heal that raw pain that death brings. But there’s another pain that strengthens…the pain of absence. The pain of knowing that another musical is coming and going without being witnessed by my Dad. The momentous achievements of my family are building up and will soon outweigh the achievements that he was alive to witness. He’ll never see E on stage. He’ll never get to feel the glory of a Wes hug. He’ll never get to see Nikki dork out over learning addition. I’ll never call him to tell him about trail running. This is the pain that will never fade. And certain times of year, or certain moments in life, I’m acutely aware of how the pain is growing.
And when all of those moments he’s missing occur during the 2 months I think of him and his death the most? Then that pain outlines every moment of every day. I close my eyes and fight back tears. Not the same tears of loss that I cried when he died, but the tears of longing that I cry when the hole in my heart that he left behind is aching to be filled.