And the rain is falling and I feel it against my face as I stand by the pond. The cattails sway back and forth in the wind and the yucca plants follow in rhythm. I see you in the boat with a fishing rod in hand, hooking a worm. Mama is on one side of you and Jennifer and I on the other. I feel the rain hit my face and I look up into the sky and I know you are looking down on me. And with leash in hand, Motzie and I walk back home.
May 21 is my dog’s birthday, not the day my dad died. That’s how I like to think of this day every year. I don’t think my dad planned his own death—if so, I am pretty sure he would have chosen something other than leukemia; perhaps, something more exciting and immediate, like a skydiving accident—but it is rather fitting, my dad being the dog lover he was, that he went out on a day that I can celebrate as the day my dog was born as opposed to the day my dad died.
If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you will know that in the past I have said I don’t commemorate the anniversary of anyone’s death—not friends, not family, not anyone. It is a personal decision. I choose to remember the other days they lived as opposed to the one day they lived no more. But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t acutely aware of the day my dad died. This time of year, March-May, always seems a little more difficult than the rest.
Today marks five years since my dad left this world. There isn’t a day that goes by, particularly now that I am a dad and have not only a daughter but also a son, that I don’t think of him. The pain is still raw, but there is some scabbing. There is still anger in that he was taken away so young, before he could earn the title of grandfather or witness me buy my first house or walk my sister down the aisle at her wedding, but much of that anger is not on the scale as it once was. There is still sadness, but not the debilitating sadness I once knew. That is mainly the result of my coping mechanisms (making a point not to think about it or using some slight of hand trick to process my grief without directly processing my grief, sort of like writing a blog post about how it’s my dog’s birthday when it’s really the day my dad died) and time. Time is huge.
Last month, my children celebrated their birthdays. Annabelle turned three and Henry celebrated his first. Something I have never told anyone was that when my wife went into labor with Annabelle, while we sat in the delivery room, (or, I should say, while I sat and my wife expelled demons. I’m only kidding, honey.) I imagined my dad was there sitting in the rocking chair beside me, and he was telling me the entire time how proud he was, how everything was going to be okay, and how, after Annabelle was born, how beautiful she was.
This was all a figment of my imagination, of course, but it was comforting. I know someone reading this will say my dad was there, that God was present. I won’t argue with you. Regardless of what you believe or what I believe, I just wanted my dad there one way or the other, to see his first grandchild, to see Annabelle. I wanted him there with me. And he was.
And he is still with me today.
I hear him in my voice (when my children misbehave), in my laugh (when they do something silly). I see him in my actions (turning off the light in an unoccupied room), even in my handwriting. I call people “chumps” sometimes and say inappropriate things like “somebody shit their britches” because my dad used to say that and it makes me think of him and it makes me smile.
I am also comforted by words my father shared with me when I was going through a tough time in my own life. It was shortly after I graduated from the University of Virginia, and, because of the economy tanking, I was struggling to find full-time work that paid decently. He wrote this a few months before he learned he had leukemia. I’d like to point out, and I will in bold, that his love of dogs is very much evident in this.
My dad writes:
You must live each day to make the best of what you have. Think about all of the positive things in your life and get out and do the simple things like walking [and] playing with the dog. Look up at the blue sky above your head. If it’s raining, watch it fall. There are thousands of people who would rather be in your shoes, than [dealing with] the problems they might be facing. You must live each day as if it is the last one. Go to work happy, come home happy, and continue to pray to God that you have good health, family, friends, and people who care about you and love you.
Think about this time in your life as a learning experience because that is what it really is. God is putting us through trials and testing each one of us each day. I have prayed each and every day since 9-19-1999, the day the doctor told me that it’s a miracle that I was alive and three days later he comes back to tell me I have cancer. Before that time in my life, I only prayed when I felt down or thought I had problems.
Once again, play the cards you have in your hand at this time and make the best of it. You are still young and have a lot to look forward to and no matter what we do to change things, God is in control; and we must perform to the best of our ability in what he puts in front of us. Remember you are being tested and will learn from every experience if you will only stop and think about it.
DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY.
— Your Daddy
Today, I will get out and do the simple things. I will play with my dog and treat her extra nice and rub her belly a little more than usual. I may call her a chump or a peterhead and take a walk to the pond and back. That’s what my dad would have done. Because May 21 is not the day my dad died. It’s the day my dog was born.