Friday, January 13, 2017

9 years in heaven

Nine years ago today, my dad lost his battle with cancer. In some ways it feels like just yesterday he took his last breath, and in others it feels like a lifetime ago.

I sipped my morning coffee from my mustache mug in my dad's honor.

So much has changed in my life in the past nine years: I met Victor, we became engaged and then were married, and now we have two beautiful children. I've developed great friendships, I've traveled all over the world, I made changes in my career, I've moved several times, and I've come into my own as a wife, mother, and woman, overall. I am so blessed and incredibly grateful for all I have experienced and accomplished over the past nine years, yet no matter how many years pass by, the void I feel in my heart has not subsided. I would give anything to have my father back, to speak to him on the phone, to visit him in Michigan, to take adventures on boats and snowmobiles with him, to have him be an active part of my kids' lives. I wish so badly that they could know him firsthand and make memories with him. And there's not a doubt in my mind that he would be one proud Papa to Max and Louisa.

So many things have brought him to the front of my mind this week. On Tuesday's episode of This Is Us (SPOILER ALERT), William told Randall that he didn't want to fight his cancer anymore, that he could feel it coming for him, and he didn't want to put Randall's family through unnecessary pain in watching him deteriorate and fade away. I watched that scene through tears as I remembered a very similar conversation with my own father over Thanksgiving in 2007, less than two months before he passed away, when he told me and my sister that he was refusing further treatment for his cancer (read more about his decision here).

Every time I share an orange with Max, I'm reminded of all the oranges I shared with my dad as a kid, sometimes as many as three a night as a pre-bedtime snack. He always made sure to get all the icky white orange-peel residue off of the slices he gave me, making him the best orange peeler of all time, in my mind.

The son of one of my dad's good friends has been taking some snowmobile rides this week, and his photos remind me of my dad, his prized "sleds" and all the winter adventures we enjoyed hanging on for dear life as he whipped us around on the back of his Polaris. His love for the sport was so infectious, it could make even the most cold-weather-loathing person have the time of their lives as they whipped through the white powdery snow.

On my walk with the kids yesterday, a beautiful cardinal swooped in front of us and landed in a tree near the sidewalk, a sign that a lost loved one is visiting from above. I take comfort in believing he was most definitely my dad, checking in on his daughter and his grandkids.

I want nothing more than for my kids to know who their Papa Ken was, and I do my best to weave his memory into our daily lives. I included a photo of him in Max's Little Book of Names and Faces. We have framed photos of him throughout our house. We refer to Max's leather sandals as "Papa shoes" because they resemble the ones my dad wore every summer. I bought Max a snowmobile toy last year and will eventually share stories of his Papa and his love for the winter hobby. The shelf my dad built for me when I was in college hangs in Louisa's room. I've kept his old golf shirts and flannel button-downs with plans to create memory bears for the kids one day. The Father and Daughter Willow Tree figurine that I gave him for Father's Day one year is displayed proudly on the built-in shelf in our family room.

In the future, when they're old enough to understand, I will share stories of their Papa's love for golf, hunting, snowmobiling, and classic cars, and how he lived simply and frugally so he could invest in his hobbies. I'll show them all the photos I have of him, and I hope they make note of his signature mustache and how it suited him so well. They'll learn about his resourcefulness when it came to using what he had to create something he needed. I'll tell them about his talents in building and fixing. They'll know that he was a great friend, an attentive father, and a man loved by many. They'll eventually hear about his bravery and perseverance when it came to fighting for his life, and how he worked tirelessly to protect his family from pain and worry.

His memory is vivid, his legacy lives on in me, and miss him everyday. I cherish all of the physical mementos I have to keep his memory alive. One thing I wish I had, though, were photos from his funeral. My advice to anyone reading this is to take photos at the funerals of people you love (maybe not of the casket, but of the people who came to pay their respects, the decorations and flowers, etc.); it seems strange and perhaps a little insensitive, but trust me, you'll wish you had them down the line. I remember thinking about taking photos back then, but it seemed weird to me. I wondered why I would want to remember such a painful time in my life. But I have beautiful memories of my dad's visitations and funeral, and I wish I had something visual to commemorate the memorable send-off we created for my father. You can never have too many photos.

Rest in peace, my Superman. I love you. I would give anything to hug you. And I hope I make you proud.

More stories about my dad:

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