After 39 years of this grief journey, I don't know why I continue to be surprised by it, but I am. I am surprised by the way it lands right in the midst of my day and takes me off-guard. And there you have it.
My fourth child, Sawyer, is nearly the exact age I was when my father died. Five and three-quarters. Or to be more precise, I was five years and 286 days old when he died. And so on December 16, 2011, Sawyer will be five years and 286 days old. As the fourth child myself, I watch Sawyer closely, observing him, trying to find out exactly what five and three-quarters looks like since memory fades and discovering exactly what it is I lost.
It turns out that no matter how deep you go, how far you search, you can never fully understand what it is you've lost, but I think I have a pretty good idea.
Sawyer at five is so attached to his father. He calls out for Terry, he asks Terry to dress him, he asks Terry to wrestle with him, to read him books, to make him a snack, to watch a movie with him, to scratch his back, to tickle his back, to go on a walk, to play with the dogs, to be his punching bag when he's angry, to drive him to school, to pick him up, to arrange playdates and to make him more snacks and while Sawyer and Terry are not the same as I was with my own father, in them, I see a glimmer of what I was about to lose, and I see that played out again and again in all my children but most especially now at five.
Because at five and three-quarters, Sawyer is both branching out on his own, demanding things from us, still wanting to snuggle, still ending up in our bed and then suddenly wanting to be left alone. Sawyer is discovering his remarkable world by sounding out words: L-O-V-E. Love. And saying things like, "Mama, Grace died right, but she'll be coming back soon." And there much more complex things he is doing now too.
For example, he has written his numbers all the way from 1 to 1,413. He writes them on a number roll, each number one after the other with the perseverance and focus of an older child.
But he still has his moments of absolute collapse and panic and sheer frustration and trying to regulate his emotions with his logical mind, and sometimes despite his best efforts, he can't regulate them because he is five. So instead he collapses into an emotional meltdown.
And while Sawyer and I are not the same, I am just again understanding through him the depth of my loss. And here in this moment is a glimpse of what I lost:
I lost the ability to sit on my father's lap and read a story.
I lost the ability to tell him that I love him.
I lost the ability to understand how much he loved me.
I lost the ability to be his only daughter in flesh and blood.
I lost the ability on Father's Day to make a card and give it to him.
I lost the ability to call him up in the middle of the night as a young adult and use him as a sounding board in understanding the confusing rules with dating.
I lost the ability to have him walk me down the aisle.
I lost the ability to watch him hold his grandchild in his arms.
I lost the ability to fall apart in his arms when his granddaughter died.
I lost the ability to call him up as an adult when so many complex issues in life no longer make sense.
And what I really lost was the ability to understand what it means to have a father, what it means to be a daddy's girl, what it means to be unconditionally loved by him.
And I don't care what gifts came out of that loss, I will forever mourn his absence in my life, and I will forever miss him.
I will forever wish that this darkness, this emptiness, this place in my heart where both my father and daughter together leave a deep chasm and deep longing never really existed at all.
Because sometimes, this darkness really sucks, and this longing for a father is so much larger than we can ever really understand.
And this kind of love hurts entirely too much.
And so still the grief rises inside of me when I least expect it.
Because love after all turns out to continue to be the thing that matters most.