I went to see my counselor the other day.
I had been struggling with the fact that the one year anniversary of my dad’s death was coming up and I wanted to make sure I did everything correctly…whatever that means. Should I go to the cemetery at sunrise? Or dusk? Should we hold some sort of vigil or remembrance service? Should I cry? How much is too much? Or should I laugh and smile, remembering the good times? What should that balance look like? Should I talk about it with the kids? Should I treat it like any other day? I don’t want to ruin the day by overthinking what I’m going to do or how I’m going to feel!
This is why I went to see my counselor.
He basically reiterated what my friend Cabell told me, which was, “Just do whatever you want, even if it’s nothing.” There’s no “right way,” which is difficult for someone like me who always needs to know exactly how to do something. Like, when the LEGO blocks come out, I’m the one asking for the instruction booklet. Tell me what to do and I’ll do it.
This groundwork in place, he asked me, “As it relates to the memory of your father, what would bring you joy?” I just sat there for a bit, trying to wrap my mind around the question. “Can you give me an example?” I asked. I really did. Eventually I said that I’d like to be able to remember times we had together that made me laugh and the times my kids had with him. Then I started saying how it’s hard to divorce the fact that he was such a great dad and grandfather, “but he killed himself” and my counselor stopped me and said, “Not but, and.” I asked him to explain.
“When you say but, you essentially negate everything before it, which I know is not your intention. What you mean to say is, ‘He was a great man and he killed himself.’ Both are true and one doesn’t negate the other,” he said.
Words are incredible. Exchange three letters for three others and suddenly the whole message is different.
Knowing my love for words, he then made this suggestion: “I’d like for you to write a poem for your dad.”
And I broke.
Well, I swore and then I broke.
“Perhaps this is something you could do every year. Maybe it becomes a tradition. Or maybe not. It’s up to you,” he said.
It’s a brilliant idea. I love poetry. In fact, years ago I won a contest to study poetry with Sage Cohen and it was amazing. So, I left my counselor’s office and I began to think about what I’d write. I searched for memories I had with my dad that made me happy. I started writing them down and, well, there were many. “This is going to be a long poem,” I thought. Instead of getting overwhelmed, though, I started with just one memory. I’m sure I’ll write the other ones and maybe they’ll become a collection or something, but for now, I just want to share this one.
It Was Magic
You had me fooled for years
in that old car.
“Just snap your fingers,” you said,
then you snapped and smiled,
and on came the high beams.
You were a magician!
You told me to try, so I did
and just like you said they would,
the high beams turned on and off
when I snapped my
I was a magician, too!
Not until years later did you
reveal your secret.
That button on the floor you
pressed with your foot each time
either of us snapped was what
really turned them on and off.
“But, dad,” I argued,
“They even turned on when I
snapped quietly, just to test it!”
And I know you said you
heard me even then,
but part of me
So, today, on the one year anniversary of your death, dad, I remember you. I remember the times in that car when you made me feel like magic was real. I remember that you loved making me smile and laugh and I know I inherited the desire to do the same for others from you. Thank you. I miss you every day and I’m continuing to learn how to live my life without you here. Sometimes I get angry and oftentimes I’m sad, but I’ll never stop loving you. Julie misses you and the kids miss their Papa terribly, but we’ll do our best to remember the things that make us smile. I know you’d want us to do that.
Love you, dad