Monday marks the second anniversary of my dad’s passing. It’s been two years, and even writing that first sentence still takes my breath away. Two years later, and I still can’t believe he is gone.
I don’t write about my dad often. At least, not his passing, anyway. I don’t really talk about it much either. I still mention him in every day conversations, the way anyone mentions their parents from time to time. “My dad used to…” or “My dad loved…” I talk to the kids a lot about him, too. I tell them funny stories about him, or when they do something that Dad used to do – like eating waffles with peanut butter on them – I always tell them about how Granddad used to do that, too. My family in general still continues to talk about Dad openly and often. It isn’t uncommon to hear things like, “Dad would have hated that!” or “Doesn’t that sound like something Dad would have loved?” in our conversations as we easily roll from topic to topic.
But very seldom anymore do I talk specifically about life without him. I try not to dwell in that place because nothing happens there but sadness. I can’t change the fact that my dad isn’t here with us anymore, so why focus on that? But sometimes, the enormity of that absence presses in on me and it literally feels like I can’t breathe. Those moments usually come when I have forgotten Dad has died for some reason. I can’t tell you how many times I still pick up my phone to call him. Two years later. Those times take my breath away and, though I usually swallow the lump in my throat and move on, sometimes I let that wave of grief wash over me and I have myself a good, long cry.
In the first year without him, I think my sadness came from the fact that I had lost someone. That WE had lost someone. It was the impact on our lives that brought the sadness then. But in the second year without Dad, I notice more often than not that the sadness comes from knowing my dad would have loved to still be here. I know that he is in a better place, waiting for us, but we will have special things here – like Michael starting kindergarten, signing Gracie up for ballet lessons, and the happy second baby for my sister’s family – that he would have really just loved. And the tears that those events bring are not for my own loss, but for his.
About two weeks ago, it was the middle of the night. I wasn’t sleeping well and was in that half sleep and half wake state when my bedroom door opened and my dad walked in. I remember looking immediately to Chris, not sure if I should wake him up or not, and Dad put his finger to his lips, indicating we should be quiet. And then he walked over to my side of the bed where I was sitting and he sat down next to me. He patted my knee and he whispered, “Hello, Katie Girl,” like he always had.
He looked thinner, younger. Well rested. And happy. Mostly, he looked like himself.
I don’t remember saying anything myself, but my dad spoke to me as if he heard everything I was thinking. We talked about Michael starting kindergarten and about what a spitfire Gracie had become. We talked about my job and some of the new responsibility I am taking on there. He looked over at Chris and told me how lucky I was to have him and how thankful he was that Chris was here to take care of me. I am not sure how long we sat there whispering, but the last thing he said to me was, “I am so proud of you, Katie Girl. Your whole life makes me so proud.” And he hugged me. I could smell the golf course on him and feel the crinkle of his favorite navy blue windbreaker. We sat there for a moment or two, he kissed me on my cheek, and then just as simply as he had walked in, he stood and walked out of the room.
The next morning when I woke up, I remembered every detail of our visit and I began to cry. It was unsettling to have been so close to him again, and it took me several days to let that wave of emotion pass.
I am not sure if it was a dream, or an angel, or my dad. I believe that the Divine sometimes has no explanation, and I’m okay with not knowing exactly what happened. But what I do know is that in that one conversation, I understood that my dad was not missing out on anything. He wasn’t sad or lonely without us because he is not without us. He knew everything that was going on in my life, as if he had seen it all happen.
I don’t really understand Heaven. I’ve read the Bible, but I’m not sure what happens there. I don’t know what we experience or the degree to which we are separated from our loved ones here on earth. I think we all have different ideas about that. I used to think Heaven was a physical barrier between those who were with God and those who were here on earth. I didn’t believe my dad was looking down on us from above. I believed that Heaven was so wonderful and the power of God’s love was so beautiful that once we experienced that, we never looked back. People often said to me after Dad died, “I know he is looking down on you” or “I know he is here with you,” and I would silently think to myself, “No, he isn’t,” because I believed he had gone on to a place where I could not follow.
It actually made me angry a little bit. That God would give us these extraordinary people in our lives and then when he took them away, they just went ahead and we were left here without them, as if none of it had been important at all. But seeing my dad in whatever form that was that night – dream, vision, wishful thinking – has made me reconsider Heaven. Perhaps it isn’t so far away after all. Perhaps Heaven doesn’t supersede or diminish the joy that we experience here on earth.
Maybe Heaven is a place where joy and love come from all different places – whether it is the glory of God or an early morning on a golf course or in watching your family go on without you. And I find it incredibly comforting to know that my dad’s place of joy, even there sitting next to our Glorious Lord, still comes from his family.