There’s something about being old enough to be able to discuss what happened in your life twenty-five years ago when you were already an adult. I was barely one of those (an adult) twenty-five years ago when my mom came rushing in to the kitchen where I was and said four words to me that I’ll never forget, “Your dad’s not breathing.” That moment changed my life in many ways for many years. Twenty-five years ago today, my dad died.
At 18, I was still growing, learning about life and myself…I was completely clueless (as are most of us at 18). It was also the last time for a couple dozen years that I would be healthy. Little did I know what would be in front of me in addition to the pain and grief I felt that night. Labor Day Weekend never was the same after 1988.
Sitting here thinking back 25 years I realize that I don’t remember what my dad’s voice sounded like. Somewhere over the years, that memory vanished. I never thought that would be possible. I wish we had the technology back then that we do today. There would be high quality JPEGs and MP4s where I could bring him back to life again. Hear his voice, see him moving around. Laughing, talking and being alive. Instead I rely on my scattered memories.
For years I thought about the day he died and those memories haunted me. Those memories were much stronger than the memories of our average life together. There are a mix of details that now have faded into the past as they should have. I used to remember the song playing on the radio as we followed the ambulance to the hospital, now I don’t even remember who was in the car. Those details seemed to be important at one time, they aren’t any more.
This Labor Day weekend as we put that new red metal roof on my mom’s house I thought a lot about my dad. Mostly glimpses of his smile came to mind. I remember his hand holding mine in church. I remember the “tap tap tap” of his white cane as I guided him in to Radio Shack to buy parts for his CB radio. I remember him hollering at me to come indoors when it was past the time I was supposed to — I was outside talking to a neighbor boy from down the street, and it was only 8:00PM and our interaction was purely innocent and I was mortified and embarrassed. Dad of course was worried because he couldn’t see who I was talking to or where I actually was. I remember watching him listening to some great old jazz music tapping his feet away and moving his head to the beat. I remember his smile whenever I gave him a hug. I remember sharing dirty jokes but only when mom wasn’t around. I remember so much more, but they are painful memories.
Today, I only remember the good stuff. The stuff that makes me smile when I remember my dad. My grief today is different than it was 25 years ago. It is much softer, mostly muted. Periodically on days of memories like today the tears will flow a bit easier. They are tears of joy and tears of sorrow mixed together. A beautiful combination of life, just as it should be.