Ten Years

Dear Dad,

I don’t know how to write about this day.  It’s been ten years since I lost you – since so many people who loved you lost you – and it’s surreal and scary and heavy and hard.  I want to run away and not face it, to find some place to hide where the pain can’t touch me, where I can be safe. I’m scared of the magnitude of the grief, the weight that comes from marking a decade without you in my life.

But that’s not what you taught me.  You taught me that to feel deeply means we are alive.  You taught me that tears aren’t a sign of weakness, they are a sign of strength.  You taught me that life is painful but it’s also beautiful. You taught me that I was strong enough to face anything life brought my way.

You taught me to be brave.

So I’m going to be brave and I’m going to #feelallthefeelings today.  I’m going to feel all the feelings and try – imperfectly, faltering, oh-so-humanly – to put into words what is in my head and heart as I process this milestone of a decade of life without you.  I’m going to try to use my words to honor you and what you meant – and still mean – to me.

I miss you every day and I know I’m not the only one.  I miss your laugh and your bear hugs, your big smile and your kindness.  I miss your enthusiasm for the little things, your ready joy, the way you made people feel so seen and valued and cared for.  I miss your dad jokes, your energy, your zest for life, your willingness to be silly and open-hearted and live life on purpose.  I miss how you would insist on giving me $20 bills when I left the house, “just in case,” despite my protests that I didn’t need them.  I miss your generous spirit, the way you gave to everyone so lavishly, generosity as your default mode. I miss how much you delighted in kiddos and the sweet and silly things they did.  I miss your love of learning, your thirst for deeper understanding of God and yourself and the world. I miss your voice, the Southern lilt that lingered years after you moved West – dropping the “t” in Saturday and pronouncing naked “nekid.”  I miss your love of food, how the first dish you taught me to cook was grits, scrambled eggs and Jimmy Dean sausage [I hate to break it to you, Dad, but I’m a vegetarian now – I guess Mom feeding me tofu as a baby won out over the breakfast meats].

You passed down so many pieces of yourself to me.  Your smile, your curly hair, your love of words and quotes, your Greek heritage, your passion for social justice and loving folks on the margins, your heart for service.  Whenever someone who knew you tells me that they see a bit of you in me, I take it as the highest compliment I can get.  “George’s daughter” is one of my proudest titles.

This day hurts but I’m also so, so grateful for the pain.  After you died someone gave me a card that said “Never forget that we mourn because we lost something good” and that is so true.  I know how lucky I am to have had you as my dad for 22 years. I feel like it wasn’t enough – but I also know it’s so much more than so many people get.  The older I get, the more stories I hear, the more life I live, the more I know the kind of father you were to me is a rare and precious gift.

The memory of you that is seared into my heart, that sums up our relationship so well, is from one summer when I was home from college.  I remember standing in the hallway of our house, between my bedroom and your office, talking to you. A close friend had hurt me, badly, and I was pouring out my heart to you, telling you all about it.  I talked and talked and cried and cried, processing what had happened and the pain it caused and the way forward, to repair this precious relationship that meant so much to me. You nodded and listened for a full 30 minutes, just letting me get it all out, and finally, when I stopped for breath, you looked at me with so much love in your eyes and you said “Mary, I love the way you think.”

At the end of the day, Dad, I think all us humans want the same thing  – we all just want to be known and loved. You gave me both. You knew me – you got me – and you loved me so well.  As much as today hurts, as much as I mourn the loss of having you in my life, I know that your love is still here. Your love is a talisman I carry with me, always.  You spent 22 years showing me that I’m loved, just as I am, and I feel it deep in the marrow of my bones. Death can’t take that away.

When I spoke at your memorial service, I said that the greatest compliment I could give you was that you, as my human father, so accurately modeled the love of my Heavenly Father.  That is as true today as it was then, and I feel the full weight of it more with each passing year.  The longer I navigate life without you, the more I cling to that Divine love, and find hope and peace and rest in the midst of the pain and uncertainty.

A few years ago I had a necklace made from your signature on a card you wrote me – it says “love” and I wear it every day.  I know other people get tattoos to remember loved ones they’ve lost – this is your needle-phobic daughter’s way of keeping your memory close [based on your reaction when I wanted to get my bellybutton pierced at 16, I think you’d prefer the necklace to the tattoo, anyways].  

That word – love – sums up perfectly the legacy that you left me.  You poured so much love into my life, and I know your hope for me was that I would pour it out again – to be as generous with my time and resources and love and compassion as you were.

People tell me “if your dad was here he’d be so proud of you” and I know that’s true.  I also know you wouldn’t be proud of me because I work at Google or live in San Francisco or pay my taxes and am a law-abiding citizen [ok you’d also be proud of all of those things, too].  But what you’d really be proud of is how I love the people in my life.  Because you’re the one who taught me that that is all and everything.

You’re not here, physically, anymore but your heart still beats.  It beats in the lives of the people you loved so well, in the memories they have of you, in the ways you showed us how to love others more deeply.

I’m sad, today, yes, but I’m also so thankful and so proud.  Thankful that I got 22 years with you as my dad, and fiercely proud to be your daughter.

I love you so much and I miss you like crazy, and all I can do is promise you that I’m going to keep trying every day to live my life with more love, just like you did.

I love you dad.

Love, Your Kid