Today marks the date when, eight long years ago, my father passed away. These kinds of anniversaries are always tricky. Some years I feel nothing out of the ordinary and subsequently feel guilty about not feeling what I think I should. Other years, I seem to automatically grieve extra hard. It’s impossible to remember what things felt like on this day eight years ago because I was in shock, numb to the bone. I remember very little. And between that day and this one, I have become such a completely different person that any comparison between the two is unproductive and irrelevant.
Last year, I’d forgotten the date because, ironically, I was immersed in some major revisions on the memoir about my father’s death. A close friend, Jenny Reiner (who, the endlessly compassionate woman that she is, remembers such birthdays and anniversaries without fail), sent me a message letting me know that she was thinking about me and missing my father, whom she loved dearly, right alongside me. It upset me so much to know that I’d gotten so caught up in my own busy days that I’d forgotten the date. It hit me quite hard last year, and I spent the day feeling sorry for myself, wondering as I always do on such days, how things might be different if my father were still here.
Someone recently asked me to explain exactly what kinds of things might be different, which is sort of an impossible question to answer. But in attempting to answer it, I realized that along with the unbearable heartache and depression I would have avoided if my father had lived on cancer free for years, there was indeed a little piece of silver lining to losing him. Yes, I’ve grown stronger, more mature, and much more compassionate since experiencing grief, but there is something else—something much more precious to me. I realize now that if my father were still alive, I probably wouldn’t be a writer.
I’d always loved to read, and had dabbled in creative writing when he was alive, even declared myself an English major early my freshman year of college. But when my father was sick and I came home with my brothers to care for him in his last months, I was forced to take a leave of absence from school. Worrying about whether or not I would be able to graduate on time, my father suggested I might write an essay or article about the experience of watching him die so that I could get credit for it at school. I told him that I didn’t think it worked like that, but after he passed away and I returned to school, I learned that I could actually get approved for an independent study in which I would write and then edit a manuscript. This allowed me to graduate on time, and with a fully-crafted (albeit shitty) draft of my first book. I never would have even dared to attempt writing a book without my father giving me the idea for it. And I never would have thought of going to grad school for an MFA afterwards, or of trying to actually make a career for myself as a writer. I truly do owe it all to him.
So this year, I made a commitment to honor my father the best way I know how–to spend the day doing things that would have made him happy. Mona and I woke early this morning, and headed off for an adventurous romp in the rainy woods of Discovery Park. We stayed there almost two hours, soaking up–quite literally–the goodness of the Pacific Northwest’s winter landscape. I’ll finish my work for the day, and tackle the next chapter of my novel, which has been too frightening to attempt until now. I’m going to build a fire, cozy up with my dog, and read some Hemingway. I might even watch a little Star Trek and eat Thai food—two of his favorite things. I made this list up in my mind and then realized something pretty amazing: these activities that made my dad’s life a happy one are actually the things I do with profound regularity. Turns out, these are the things that make my life a happy one, too.