It doesn't take much to trigger a memory. It could be a smell, a sound, a joke. It seems like those triggers come when you least expect them. Sometimes I handle them well, and then there are days like today.
My son was playing with a toy that played a little tune, "Dinah blow your horn". I heard it, not even knowing the toy played that song, and there he is, Daddy. My dad used to sing that song to me. He was always so silly and he'd sing little things to me when he was trying to wake me up, something I don't like to do. He would say silly things that I still remember, that I now say to my kids, hoping to keep him alive. He never got to meet my kids so the only way they will know him is through me and the stories I tell, the pictures I show them. They all know who Papa Gene is. They know he liked grape jelly and going fishing. They know that he was my hero. How I wish they knew him, while he was here.
I love the change from summer to fall, but along with the cool weather and the coming of holidays comes the memories. My dad died of cancer in 1997. He and my mom came with us to Hawaii to see us get married in June. We knew he was dying and he had never seen Hawaii. I wanted him to be there, to see me marry my best friend, to see the beauty of the islands. He and my mom sat on the beach every evening to watch the sun set, every night. Once we got home he said he was done, done fighting. He had done all he wanted to do. He wanted to enjoy what he could, what was left.
He declined quickly and I moved back home in October knowing there wasn't much time left. I didn't want to miss a minute with him. We talked a lot. That wasn't the normal thing, Dad was a man of few words. But, we knew we had to say whatever we needed to say. I didn't want to regret anything, miss the chance to say anything I wanted him to know. How was I going to live without him?
My dad died on November 15, 1997 at 9pm. He was surrounded by friends and family, comfortable in his own home. He and I had shared his last meal together, lemon merengue pie, the night before. Then he slipped into a coma. I would never look into his eyes again. He died with a smile on his face, literally. We couldn't help but laugh as if he was taking the best secret ever with him, without telling us the punchline. My dad was gone, forever.
You would think after almost 12 years that the pain would be less, the tears would be less, but they aren't. I miss him as if he had gone yesterday. I miss him with a physical pain that makes my chest hurt and makes my head pound. I miss him more than I could have ever known I would.
I pray for friends that I know are on the same road I am. I so wish they didn't have to walk this path. I know what's in front of them and it is heartbreaking. One of my best friends recently lost her dad, one friend lost a mom and another is losing her mom right now to cancer. It's as if my dad dies all over again every time I watch someone else go through this hell, this horrible agony that makes me so angry I want to scream, IT'S NOT FAIR!!
Then, I hear my daddy whisper, "This too shall pass", this moment of intense pain and grief. Then I am left with the sweet memories, the stories I tell over and over to anyone who will listen. The overwhelming pride I have to be called Gene's little girl. The memory of his chuckle, his bald head, his blue eyes. He'll never leave me. He's always here, in my heart, forever.