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January 29, 2022

Why are we Afraid to ask the Questions that Matter?

Another holiday season has come and gone. One that part of me was dreading.

It included all the normal holiday accoutrements: lights strung on the house, Santas smiling from bookshelves, stockings hanging from the mantel, and an abundance of indulgent desserts.

But this year was different. This was the first Christmas that did not include my dad. He died a year ago January 7th. And it was difficult. And confusing.

He adored Christmas. All the pomp and circumstance—the over-the-top decorations, gifts piled around the tree, Christmas carols, and looking for Rudolph on Christmas Eve before the little ones headed to bed. He loved every bit of it.

We knew this year would be difficult. And it was. In a hundred different, big and little ways. But it was also confusing because of how little we acknowledged his absence. Did we not talk about him because we didn’t want to be sad? As if talking about him is the only time we felt sadness. Were we afraid of upsetting the grandkids? Were we worried it would put a damper on our celebration and make our dinner guests uncomfortable?

I think it was all of this. And none of it.

Around the holiday, I spoke to and spent time with friends and family, near and far. Not one of them acknowledged that this year was different. Not one person mentioned my dad unless I did first. They all knew this was the first year without my dad. My bonus mom’s first year without her husband. My sons’, nieces’, and nephews’ first year without their gramps. It wasn’t that they forgot. I believe they just chose to not mention it. I imagine in the interest of not wanting to dampen the Christmas spirit. Or having to navigate a difficult topic and being unsure of the response.

I talked to, ate meals with, and went on walks with people who didn’t ask how I was doing. Friends who had known him for decades, friends who only met him a handful of times, and friends who never met him but knew him through me. Friends and family who didn’t mention his absence. Friends and family who didn’t acknowledge our loss. And all I wanted was for it to be acknowledged.

It’s only been a year. It’s already been a year. It feels like forever and never, simultaneously.

But people don’t ask. They often don’t say anything.

They know we still hurt. Still have anger and sadness and regret.

They know it’s difficult. They know we sometimes cry.

Why do they not ask?

Why do we think we should not ask our people about their pain? Their loss? Their memories? From this experience, I’ve learned that it’s more painful to not be asked. It has been difficult to have this pivotal moment in my life avoided by so many. To wait and hope that someone mentions it, someone asks me about him. To know that he is remembered. It’s been painful to wonder if these individuals in my life may have already forgotten. Or simply moved on and assumed I want to do the same.

I want someone to ask me. I want them to ask me about him.

I want them to ask me what I will most miss.

What was he like?

What was his favorite hobby?

What was his greatest strength and what was his biggest weakness?

What did his laugh sound like?

What was his biggest regret?

What music did he like to listen to and did he like to dance?

I want someone to ask me what mattered to him. I want someone to ask me.

Ask me anything.

Because it matters. Because I want someone to wonder. Because I want someone to want to know. Because I want to talk about him. Because I want to remember.

I always want to remember.

I always want to remember how, every night without fail, he sang John Denver’s “Sunshine” to me at bedtime until the age when I decided I no longer needed him to, and if I wasn’t fully asleep when he tried to sneak out of my room, I would wake up and call for him and he would come back and sit next to my bed until I fell asleep.

And, I want to remember how, when he worked construction jobs when I was a little girl, he’d come home covered in red chalk from framing and he’d strip down to his shorts in the front yard to wash it off and I’d run back and forth across the lawn and he’d squirt me with the water hose, and I don’t think I could have imagined anything, at that moment, that would have made me happier.

I want to remember how, upon leaving a restaurant that had a bowl of peppermint taffy at the exit, he stuffed his short pockets to overflowing because they were one of his favorites.

I don’t ever want him to become a topic that is avoided.

He was my father. Daddy. And for 48 years of my life, he lived and breathed and loved me more than anyone ever has and likely ever will.

Ask me about him.

I may cry. I will cry. I may not know the answer. I will wish I knew the answer. I will always long for more conversations with him. I will not pretend he was a saint, but I want to always remember how he loved me and how he loved his family and how his smile looked when he first found out he was going to be a grandfather, and the absolute joy he found in his grandkids and his own kids who were now adults and married and parents and living lives he was proud of.

I will never not think of him as I watch my oldest son change my oil or the brakes on my husband’s car and whose future lies in the automotive world; I can picture my dad standing next to him, calmly and gently advising him with a look of pride on his face.

I will never be able to watch my youngest son run cross country or play the drums or the piano and not imagine how indescribably proud my dad would be to witness his effort and success. We often had to encourage him to put his camera down and to not experience the moment from behind a lens as it seemed he was desperate to capture every occasion, every smile, every achievement in his desire to hold it forever.

I will never be able to walk down the cereal aisle and not smile seeing all of the sugar-laden cereals he was so fond of buying for my children and brushing away my disapproval with a wave of his hand and a terse, “Oh, leave us alone,” as I dropped my sons at his home to be spoiled by him for the day.

I will never hear Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” without seeing him singing and swaying to the music at my wedding.

There are, thankfully, countless little moments that will always be with me. I want them to always be with me. I never want to forget the love I always felt from, and for, him. The support, the joy of being a father. I want to hold these memories forever. I want to share these memories with anyone who asks.

And, I’ve learned, I will always ask.

If anyone in my life experiences intense joy or sorrow, loss or gain, hope or grief, I will ask. I will ask them to tell me. Tell me about it. About him. About her. About their pain. About their joy.

Please, tell me. I want to remember with you.

~

My dad:

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