Last year the husband and I spent Thanksgiving weekend hiking in Palm Springs, California. I remember those photos as some of the happiest ones I had for awhile as shortly after, the entirety of my world shifted. The phone call came the following weekend and aside from sitting at the airport in tears, I don’t remember much after that. Flight, hospital, difficult familial conversations, funeral, shiva and a whole hell of a lot of tears – today, it’s been a year since Dad suddenly passed away.
There are moments when it’s impossible to believe it happened, moments that it feels raw and moments when although we can’t talk in the same way – it feels like he’s right here beside me holding my hand, laughing at a story, telling me about his ride or helping me make a difficult decision. Grief is completely f*cking weird.
Too many people I know are in this exact same club. This club that no one wants to be in, doesn’t have a leader and too quickly increases in number – those I know in this club are at various stages of membership and have offered countless snippets of wisdom, comfort and stories amidst all the ick. From hugs, to texts, to ears to bend, shoulders to cry on, stories to share and the innate ability to turn a tear-filled conversation into one that ends with a smile – kind people have been everywhere this year.
I can’t believe it’s been 365 days since he left us. The world sure seemed dark for quite awhile. It was cold and dreary, covered in ice and snow and filled with a sense of numb. For some reason, I do believe that there will always be a little bit of that darkness and that sense of numb, but 365 days later I feel far more of a hug from Dad than a sense of loss.
Grief is definitely a strange animal. Whether you look it up on Google, research it, read your share of books, go to classes, talk to friends, listen to podcasts or figure it out on your own – it’s pretty damn obvious that there are many stages of grief. They don’t bop you on the head and say ‘hello you’ve reached the next level’ and unlike those old school video games we used to play, at times when you least expect it, you find yourself going backwards to what felt like already completed levels. But, whether notified by the stages or otherwise, there’s definitely a swing that happens.
Firsts are hard. Rawness and clarity flings you back into each and every moment of those gut-wrenching days. This date, this time, this minute, this place – it’s all there whizzing about my brain and flinging my emotions hither, thither and yon. I miss him, that’s for sure. Those first few months in New York continually felt like our hearts were being ripped open broadcasting that open wound – as if someone was constantly pouring lemon juice on a giant paper cut. These past ten months in San Diego have helped us heal a little. There’s been time for mourning, reminiscing, connecting, crying and remembering. We’ve talked on trails, on the way to yoga, while waiting for Starbucks, while having brunch, while watching reruns of The West Wing and at so many other moments that snuck up without warning.
Somehow, the constant gut-punch began to ebb and a dull ache took its place. It’s still there, and according to those ever present club members, it won’t ever really go away. We channel Dad daily and are hoping that we’re doing things that make him proud. Decked in purple we walked the Pancan walk for a cure in San Diego. We had the honor of helping to set up a team for Long Island’s Lustgarten Walk – his team, Team Mustache lives on. We talk about our financial stuff, try to save towards retirement, randomly talk to strangers and do our best to know the words to every song ever written – and proudly sing them at the top of our lungs. I’ve noticed in the last little while that there have been times when smiles make their way in, laughter coincides with a memory and I can sometimes now look at pictures with a glint in my eye and an upward curve of my mouth again.
One year later and its still the same yet quite so different. Changes have taken place – some we yearned for and others we didn’t know possible. People have continued to show up in more ways than we can count, our happy place continues to help us heal through sunshine and outdoor air and we’re still here, taking steps in a forward direction. It might be the yoga, it might be the counsel of so many others who have dealt with this type of situation or it might be the lessons of the Universe – but we know for sure that the only way out is through. They may be baby steps and sometimes you have to back up to go forwards – but no matter the size – a step is a step, and we’re taking them every damn day.
This year we ditched the country in November and managed to spend Thanksgiving in Melbourne, Australia. We went on a beach hike in the morning, stopped for coffee and a pastry (like Dad did on his favourite rides), ate sushi for lunch, took in a movie filled with magic, ate chocolate cupcakes and got to take some fun photos with friends. I smiled again. Embracing those bonus days are important – and they’re all bonus days. It’s been awhile since I truly smiled, but it felt good. Dad would think so, too.
And so today, in honor and remembrance, we’ll find a way to connect, cry, and smile with Dad. Thrilled that we got the chance to share a little part of San Diego with him, we’ll channel some of what brought him joy. Get up early (so you don’t miss the best part of the day), start the day outside in nature, eat something delicious and share that joy found on the trail with others. Smile at a stranger, be kind to others, raise a glass, play outside, spend time with people you love, wear a hat and definitely find time for chocolate. And we know that in every step we take, he’ll be right there next to us, clad in bright colors and guided by a huge, hopeful smile. Love you, Dad…see you out there on the trail!