My father died this summer. I don't think I'll ever be able to stand outside on a hot, humid day again without remembering the first moments of my grief. Smoking a cigarette, walking in circles in the grass, just trying to get it together enough to drive home.
He had been sick for a long time, kidney failure, heart attacks, diabetes, liver problems from his medication an occasional seizure thrown in just for fun and scariest of all, a stroke. He started getting sick when I was in high school; we actually celebrated my 16th birthday in his hospital room, so we had been living with the reality of his illness for almost 20 years.
You think that you're prepared for something like this. We all know it would happen, and as more time passed we knew that it might happen soon. But we never really believed it would happen. When he went into the hospital for the last time, in mid-August we all assumed he'd be back home soon, maybe on dialysis, but home.
On August 29th, I stood in the ICU, where I had visited so many times, and watched my mother let him go. They had been trying to revive him for at least 30 minutes, while we drove to the hospital, and when we arrived she told them to stop, that they had done all that could be expected. She thanked them, and I cannot imagine the strength that must have taken, to thank the people who couldn't bring him back and to be the one to make the decision that it was time to stop trying.
I miss him so much, and whenever I see a photo of him it hits me again. The thought that I'll never hug him, never feel the scratchiness of his stubble as he kisses my cheek or hear his laugh, it's like a punch to the gut that takes my breath away.
We talk about him every day. I'm determined that Alex will know how much his Papaw loved him and hopeful that he will remember how much he loved his Papaw in return.
This is what I remember:
flying through the air as a child, as he swung me in his arms, knowing that he would never drop me
floating in the ocean with his hands under my back, learning to swim
sitting on his shoulders in that same warm water as a storm rolled in, feeling the waves crash over us, but never being afraid because his strength would keep us safe
sitting in our kitchen, watching him cut up the steak for the stroganoff my mother would be making for dinner
learning to shoot - his large, calloused hands wrapped around my small ones
climbing on his tow truck in the summer, "helping" him wash it, but mostly just getting squirted with the hose
Christmas mornings where the joy in his eyes outshone anything my brother and I were feeling, just so happy to see his kids happy
walking down the aisle towards my soon-to-be husband, my hand on his arm, it felt like floating
the first time he held my son, so tiny, and the gentle love I could see as he cradled Alex in his arms
the way he loved my mother and how they showed me, together, that marriage isn't always easy but it's so worth the work
a million more small moments - the wonderful, which I will hold on to as tightly as I can, and the fights and friction that come from strong, conflicting personalities living in the same house, which I will let go of
I will miss him for the rest of my life.
Love you, Daddy.