It’s been ten years. Ten. Ten years since my father died. Ten years living as the person I am now, the person I was made into when he died. Ten years of missing him, ten years of wondering if he knew I loved him or if he knew how big the hole in me would be when he left. Ten years without him to talk to, confide in. Ten years knowing that the only person who would ever love me the way he did will never be coming back. Ten years as a fatherless child.
Every year when December hits, I can’t help but return in my mind to the winter, now ten long years ago, when my dad died. The seemingly endless Wisconsin winter, the days and nights spent at his bedside, the constant fear and turmoil. It’s hard to believe that ten of these anniversaries, these nostalgic melancholias have passed, each one a little different. Some of them have snuck up on me, while others loomed in the foreground like some long-awaited and predestined winter storm. I suppose I wasn’t sure what to expect this year, but at the very least I knew it wouldn’t be easy.
As this past Friday, December 16th approached, I planned to lie low for the day and maybe watch Dad’s favorite movie, Jeremiah Johnson and maybe even build a fire though it never really gets cold enough here in Seattle to actually need one. Usually on Dad’s birthday or the anniversary of his death, I try to do things that he loved doing—watch Star Trek and Jeremiah Johnson, eat spicy Thai food, play with the dog outside, do some writing and reading. It makes me feel good to find some joy in what would otherwise be a devastating day by carrying on the silly traditions that made him so happy, and it makes me feel twice as good when, every year, I realize that those are the very same things that make me so happy in my everyday life.
But last Thursday when I got home from work, juggling the groceries and mail and dreading the day that would follow, I got a call from my brother, Gabe. He’d been thinking about Dad, as we all had, and feeling funny that we were all scattered across the country, apart on such an important day. Wanting us all to be together, he suggested that our brother, Dylan, and I fly home the next morning so we could experience with each other something that only the four of us will ever understand. Several frantic phone calls, 80,000 of Gabe’s frequent flyer miles, and twenty minutes later, the flight had been booked and my bags were packed. And the next day as we sat in front of Gabe’s fireplace, drinking in the cozy winter night and watching my sweet niece bounce and giggle on our laps, we did exactly what felt right: we shared stories about Dad. Laughed and cried and remembered how incredible we felt in his presence. It wasn’t an easy weekend, but it was the best it could have possibly been because we were together.
It was hard to leave home to come back to Seattle this time. As our family grows, it gets more difficult to stay so far away, and as the distance separating the present from the fantasy-like time when my father was still alive expands, I only miss my family more because they are my strongest connection to him. But back at my desk, writing and sipping tea, listening to music I know my father would have loved, I remind myself that I will hold on. I’ll love him stronger every day, love myself in his absence. His death hurts every bit as much today as it did ten years ago, if not more. No–I can say with absolution that it does hurt more as time passes; as my life unfolds I findi myself missing him worse than ever before, thinking about what he’s missing and what I continue to miss in his absence.
But I hold on. I hold on to his memory, the sound of his laughter and the feel of his beard against my forehead. I hold on to all the things my brothers and I inherited from him. I hold on for dear life to the knowledge that next year, when my first book comes out, his legacy will spread and live on in the hearts of those who come to know him through my story, all because I held on and wrote. Wrote through the tears, the struggle, the sleepless nights, and the last ten anniversaries.