My sister is two years older than me, but our birthdays are only three or four days apart depending on the year (I’m 2/27, she’s 3/2), so growing up we shared a good number of birthday parties like this one at Peter Piper Pizza. I asked my mom to send me a couple of older photos I could post on my sister’s Facebook wall to mark her birthday this year, and when she sent me this one she said, “Look at Daddy taking a picture of the cake! It’s such a Daddy move, it made me laugh.”
It made me laugh, too, because this is something he did his whole life: ruthlessly document even the small things, like Little Mermaid birthday cakes, explanatory plaques at museums to remember some small fact later, the three of us coming down the stairs every Christmas morning. I think it was the amateur historian in him, or at least the life-long collector. He collected memories—little inconsequential things like pictures of birthday cakes—and organized them and kept them forever. There are so many “Dad” things about this picture—those terrible jeans, that polo shirt (I’m pretty sure he owned some variation of it his entire life), that haircut…
My sweet dad passed away a year ago today. There’s a part of me that can’t even believe it’s been that long, but an even bigger part of me that feels like it all happened five minutes ago, and I’m still in that hospital room with him. My family and I worked really hard to ease ourselves through the big “firsts”—his first birthday (the end of this month), the first Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas. I’m so proud of my incredible mom, and how she’s soldiered on, picking up the pieces and charging forward with determination.
What gets you, though, are the small moments that sneak up on you—when you want to call them to hear about their day, when you see a movie and want their opinion, when you have a question about fixing something or finances, when you hear a song they loved. I still cry—a lot, and on some days a lot-a lot. I miss him so much every single day, and while there are things I do to feel close to him, sometimes I just can’t get over the fact he’s not physically present anymore. I don’t get to hear his dorky laugh, or watch him try (and fail) to snap along with the beat to some song, or hear him say, “Hello, Alex Girl! I was just driving home and thought I’d give you a call…”
I think it’s generally true what they say—that the first year is the hardest, but I have to wonder if the second year will in a way be worse. I think last year… well, he was suffering so much going through chemo, living this terrible sort of half-life and still doggedly fighting through it. When one person in your family is diagnosed with cancer, the whole family is. It’s hard to imagine, let alone describe, the kind of constant, terrorizing stress you live with every day, so much so that it manifests physical symptoms. And the release from that is a relief, as is knowing that your loved one isn’t suffering any longer. And Dad was really, really suffering at the end. That’s something I’m not sure I’ll ever come to terms with.
I’m not sure I’ll ever come to terms with knowing he’ll never see us get married, my brother graduate, meet any of his grandchildren. One of the reasons this picture means so much is because it captures some small part of him—something I can use to tell you about him, to flesh him out, to share the rich texture of his life.
I miss him, and I love him very much.