Today, you would be 65.
It’s hard to grasp, really. In my eyes, you will always be strong, outstretched arms, golden tan skin, hands 5 times as big as mine, spinning me ‘round and ‘round and ‘round in the back yard. You will always be late night trips to Pojos, winning me every single prize you saw catch my eye. You are forever early morning drives to set the minnow traps, checking each one 3 times just to be safe. Holding hands in the car, asking me which way we are supposed to turn at each stop sign to make sure that I could find my own way home even if you weren’t sitting beside me holding my hand.
Daddy, it’s been hard finding my way home without you here. You were my home for 25 years. Sometimes I still call you to ask you questions that only you would know the answer to. I’m learning to smile through the tears as I figure out the answers on my own. I think you’d be proud of how far I’ve come.
You will always be the first man I loved, the keeper of my heart, and my guardian angel watching over me no matter where I go.
Thank you for hanging the moon a little lower on the nights I need to feel you close. Thank you for the feathers and the songs and the signs tucked neatly in between the moments I’m certain I can’t do any of this without you here. Thank you for listening when I talk to you in the car, and thank you for unexpected memories that let me talk about you here on earth with the people I love the most.
Sometimes I daydream about telling my future kids about their grandpa Don. I wish they could know you. Sometimes it makes me crazy thinking about the fact that they never will.
Hope whispers softly that they are already getting to know you right now and I can’t help but laugh thinking, “of course you’d find a way to meet my kids before I even get to.”
But patience and stubbornness reminds me that no matter what, they will know you.
Because I will make sure of it.
I had my heart broken, daddy. It was pretty bad. Cousin Matt said he feels bad for the guy. He said the only thing he can think of that would be worse than being on your bad side while you were here is being haunted by you when you’re not.
I laughed, because I knew it was true.
And even though you aren’t here to fight my battles for me anymore, I know you are on the sidelines in heaven cheering me on. I can feel it. Thank you, daddy.
We are still in it together.
We always will be.
My heart is healing, dad. I think you’d be happy to meet the hands that are holding it now. The hands that took the time to help me pick up each broken piece off the floor. The hand I wish you could shake, but the hands that I know will honor and respect you even if you can’t physically be there in the room. I’m learning to trust the hands of others again, dad. But only because you taught me how to trust you in all of the best ways you knew how. I will never forget that.
Holidays are always hard. It feels almost too easy going place to place without you groaning and griping and asking why we can’t just stay home. You were always the biggest presence in every room we walked in. Sometimes it feels hard to do you justice walking into a room alone. It’s like I can physically feel your loss. It sucks me in and somehow I feel alone in a room completely filled with people. You always had the best way of filling the space you were in. It hurts without you here, daddy.
But I need you to know that there will always be a seat for you at my table.
There will always be a missing piece in the air. No one will ever be able to fill that, and for some reason, knowing and accepting that brings me so much comfort. I would never even try to fill that hole.
I’m so thankful I can still hear your laugh. I’m so thankful I can still feel your hugs when I close my eyes. Sometimes I see your eyes staring back at me in the mirror.
It’s hard, but I promise I’m Working on not looking away.
My life is really good, dad. I wish I could have you over for Myers Rum and OJ and tell you everything that’s happened lately. I know you see it but sometimes it’s so hard not being able to call you or talk to you or hug you when I need to tell you something good or bad about my day. But my life has more good days than bad days, dad. I used to feel so guilty for that but I know you would tell me to stop “boo-hooing” and live a life I’m proud of. I’m proud of my life, dad. I know that so much of that has to do with you. You were looking out for me and protecting me even when I had no idea I was on your mind. I learned so much about you after you left and I am so thankful for every story or laugh or “you’ll never believe this one time…” when I run into people who knew you everywhere I go. I used to hold my breath when I told people my last name knowing it would add an hour of stories even if I was late.
Now, I tell people every chance I get.
I am so proud to be your daughter.
I know life wasn’t always easy for you. The more I live, the more I feel like I understand you and love you harder for fighting the good fight the best you knew how to. The more I live and learn, the more I wish I could go back and look out for you and protect you the way you always did for me. I would never let anyone hurt you, dad. Every day I understand your heart a little bit better. Every day, it looks a little bit more like mine.
I promise you I will keep fighting, the best way I can, the best way you taught me how. I will keep fighting and keep loving and keep living and most importantly, I will keep laughing. One day maybe I will be the laugh and the light that fills up a room the way you did.
I miss you, daddy. I miss you most on the days of the week ending in Y. I miss you in the morning, I miss you at lunch, I miss you at night. I miss you in the car or the kitchen, I miss you at work and in the mountains. I miss you when things are good and I miss you when things aren’t so happy anymore. I miss being able to miss you and then see you. This type of missing feels like it’s going to be this way forever. But I’m learning how to make this grief feel like it has a place to call home. A safe room where it’s welcome. But I’m also learning that somedays it’s okay to close the door. Somedays, it’s okay to close the door and live a day and do whatever it is that makes my heart sing. I’ve learned that the door is always there. And somedays, it opens on its own; but other days, I open up the door just to sit inside for a while. Just to hurt and miss you and wish so so badly that you were still here.
This grief has made my heart bigger, dad. I had to make room to keep it somewhere. And it’s helped me love people and understand people and take care of people deeper and better and harder. It’s helped remind me what always matters and what never will. It’s helped me ask for help when I need it and cry when nothing else seems like it will work. It usually doesn’t make much sense, but losing you has helped me stop trying to make so much sense of everything and just live and love and laugh and put one foot in front of the other, instead. I’m walking, Dad. I’m walking and walking and I know that every single day I am one step closer to you.
What’s it like where you are? I imagine one of our secret spots at Brownlee reservoir where we always caught so many fish that we had to throw most of them back in. I imagine endless coins at Pojos. I imagine long car rides with all green lights. I imagine lots of Costco rotisserie chicken sandwiches with only bread and mayonnaise, but only for you, because I always thought they were so gross. I imagine steak and ketchup and doors that automatically close behind you when you walk through them. I still hear your voice in my head whenever I walk down a hallway asking me if I remembered to shut the door.
I always do, dad. I always will.
I know I don’t need to tell you this, daddy, but I will never ever forget you.
I never could, even if I tried.
I see you in strangers and loved ones, I see you in your favorite places and new adventures that we never got to experience together. I know you’ve been with me everywhere I go.
I knew in Thailand when the first beer I was handed was called a “Full Moon Brew.” I knew in Nepal when the lodge in Namche we slept in was called “Moonlight Lodge.”
I know you are there, but some days the moon and your hands and heaven just seem really far away.
Thank you for giving me people here on earth to hold me tighter on the nights it feels like you’re really gone.
I’m safe, dad.
I have so many people in my life willing to hold me up when I can’t stand alone.
Part of you is gone. But I have to remember that part of me will always be half you. You are in my legs as I keep moving forward even though everything within me begs me to stop. You are in my arms as they reach down to help lift someone up, you are in my heart and my soul.
You are half of every tiny piece of me.
That’s the best gift I could have ever been given.
So, today, on your 65th birthday I will keep doing what I have been doing since the day you had to leave us here on earth.
I will laugh when I can, cry when I need to, and never miss a chance to steal food off someone’s plate when they aren’t looking.
I will keep rising even when it would be so much easier to stay knocked down.
I will make a difference, even if that difference happens by lying teeny tiny stepping stones to get across the river.
I have big shoes to fill, daddy.
I’ve known that ever since I used to clonk around in your work boots in the kitchen. But I truly can’t think of a better pair of boots to live my life striving to fill.
I miss you every single day, but I promise to honor you even more than I miss you.
I promise to make you proud by living a life that I am proud of.
Cheers to you, daddio.