Today marks eleven years since my father’s death. It’s another anniversary, another little hurdle to walk over. Like all the anniversaries that have passed, I woke this morning, remembered what day it was, and tried to decide how I felt about it. I’ve written about these anniversaries a few times before, and I’ll likely do it again, because they’re a big deal. But unlike all those other years, I’ve decided to this one a little differently.
I talked with my mom and brothers this morning—each of us checking in with the others to simply connect, and remember together, all that we went through eleven years ago and every day since. But after that, got out of bed, walked my dog, and went on with my day. The Green Bay Packers came away with an important win against longtime rivals Chicago Bears, and that’s a pretty good thing. And there are other good things today—lots of them—and, taking stock of it all, I decided that I’m not going to be sad today. I miss my father more intensely than ever before, but I’m determined to spend the day feeling happy, grateful, and at peace. So far, so good.
In years passed, I often felt the full weight of the loss all over again, as if the only proper way to honor the anniversary of Dad’s death were to torture myself with a constant replaying of every painful memory. Sometimes that deep sadness came about on its own, and other times I sort of forced it on myself. But I’m just not going to do that this time; Dad wouldn’t want it that way. And besides, there’s just too much goodness in my life right now to spend a whole day feeling sad. My days are happy and full, and I have a lot to feel grateful for. So damn it, I’m going to have myself a good day of writing and couch napping and building a fire in the fireplace and cooking a Sunday soup and snuggling with my dog.
Having my memoir out in bookstores now has definitely changed my grief, in ways I can articulate and others I cannot. Though I’ll never know what my father would say about the book I’ve written in his honor, I have some pretty good guesses. And at the very least, I know that he would be proud of me for accomplishing three very important things: First, I went after something that was difficult—nearly impossible, really—because it gave me a sense of purpose. Second, I actually made that impossible dream a reality that I now live every single day. And third, I cemented the legacy of love, acceptance, and joy that my father worked so hard to create. Hell, I like to think that I added a little something of my own to that legacy in the process.
And ultimately, though I’ll never get to ask him, I feel pretty confident that my father would be immensely proud of me for choosing happiness. Full stop.