When you’ve lost your father, Father’s Day takes on a whole new meaning. It is not about celebrating the presence of someone special in your life anymore; it is about treasuring the special presents they gave you. It is not about seeing them in person; it is about celebrating them as a person. On this day, instead of driving to see them to pay tribute to their fabulous “dadness”, you make your own personal journey to pay homage to their memory. I like to combine the two by driving to visit him where my last memory of him exists – to where he is buried.
As we do every year on Father’s Day weekend since my dad passed in 2007, my husband and children made our annual trek to the cemetery to simply say, “Hi, Dad.” While some think it is a ridiculous notion to think you are actually visiting someone in a cemetery, somehow it brings me comfort to know that the destination holds a marker stone that bears his name. Seeing that familiar, strong, and memorable name permanently etched into the granite makes me feel well grounded. That was always one of the tenants of his parenting style – that my sister and I were part of a bigger picture. We were special, but belonged to a greater good. Everyone and everything had its rightful purpose and place. He truly set the example by befriending every chipmunk in the yard with daily meals of sunflower seeds, and by making sure every bird had a well-crafted birdhouse and plenty to eat as well. Yes, my father personified kindness and opened himself up to everything around him. From his insatiable desire to read and understand any word he laid his eyes on, to making friends wherever he went. Whether he was hunkered down in the Korean War or traipsing around the golf course back here in America to play a few rounds with is buddies, he experienced it all. He lived life.
I think that was the thing that troubled him the most at the end of his life. He was diagnosed with cancer on August 22nd and died on Thanksgiving morning – exactly three months later. I believe the swiftness of his death is what caught him off guard the most. Never did he think his “end” would be so rapid. No bucket list. No sewing up loose ends. No second chances. But what he didn’t realize is that he didn’t need any more time. During the 74 years my father inhabited this earth his impact was impressive. His wake and funeral were packed. His wife, my mom, still loved him more than anything else in the world. His daughters worshipped him. And his grandchildren reeled with joy at the very mention of his name. My father loved life and it loved him right back. We loved him. No, he didn’t need any more time – he had accomplished it all.
So on the day before Father’s Day a few years ago, my husband, my three small children, and I took the 30-minute drive to read his name. To lay my eyes upon the words etched in that headstone. We were coming off a wonderful morning that included the boys’ yearend baseball picnic. Each one of them busily comparing trophies while their baby sister happily babbled alongside them. You see, I became pregnant with my daughter just one week after my father died. She is named after him because we truly believe my father sent her down to us. Thanks, Dad.
As our car turned from the roadway to meet the winding path of the cemetery drive, the boys perked up seeing that we had reached our destination. My middle son was so excited, he said to his big brother, “E! E! This where Grandpa lives! Remember? Do you remember he lives here? Oh! Right there, right there! Grandpa lives under that rock!”
Yes, the “rock” that displayed his name. The rock I was so desperate to reach. The rock that bore witness to a person I had known for all of my life. But no, he did not live under that rock. Never a day in his life was he isolated, ignorant or obtuse. My wonderful little boy had summed it up so beautifully for me – so innocently. My father lived life to its fullest, never under a rock. It was that simple. He wasn’t there under that rock. He lived in the lawn that surrounded his headstone, in the tree above his grave that provided blessed shade on a hot day, the wind that whispered in my ear as I stood there. He was everywhere.
So live while you are living, learn everything you can, aspire to accomplish greatness, respect every moment, and perpetuate love. My father’s life taught me this and his death made it real. Do what you can now, because there is plenty of time when you are done breathing, to live under a rock.