Yesterday was a day like any other.
I wrestled three children from the bed to the bathroom to the table (rinse and repeat multiple times). I cleaned the house. I was cranky. I was tired. I drank a lot of coffee.
I was also feeling a bit sad for what felt like no reason at all, which is not entirely unusual but not exactly commonplace either. Maybe it was post-vacation blues. Or that my mom had just boarded a plane for home the night before. Or maybe my heart already knew what my head didn’t.
But mostly, it was a day of no great significance or importance. When my husband came home from work, I grabbed my purse and left (ALONE) to go grocery-shopping, just as I do every Tuesday evening. I treated myself to dinner, I shopped, I came home.
I got into my yoga pants, I gave hugs and kisses to two little girls as they were ushered off to bed, and I sat down to feed Poppy while watching America’s Got Talent.
All of this was normal.
And then my husband sat down on the ottoman in front of me and put the TV on mute. I was so unsuspecting in that moment before he opened his mouth. So blissfully unaware, even though his TV-muting behavior was completely not normal.
And then his lips parted and he said to me, “The police came while you were out, Hon. They asked for you.”
In the brief pause before his next sentence, my heart sank. Toppled. Flipflopped. Seized. Burst. Broke. All or none of the above? I’m sure it did something that there are no words for. I had texted my mom thirty minutes earlier and had received no response. I felt certain in that split second that he was about to tell me she was dead. I think I may have sucked in a breath, because other than losing my children and my husband, losing her is my worst fear. And then —
“They told me that your dad died.”
Well, of course. He had Type I Diabetes and there had been many, many low points in his health over the last year or two. In the last month, he had started throwing up every day multiple times a day and had lost a significant amount of weight. Even though he’d had some bad spells before, a part of me knew the end could be near. A part of me knew it so well that, on an inspired day two weeks ago, I wrote his eulogy. But still. You never really know when it’s coming. Especially when you’ve thought it was coming many times before.
Tears fell. They fell as I watched AGT. They fell onto Poppy as I nursed him. They started and stopped over and over all evening.
I feel relieved for that. I feel relieved and thankful that, despite the abuse I suffered at his hands and the thoughtless way he treated my mom and the stupid decisions he made and the selfish things he did in recent years, my heart is not so hard that I cannot grieve for him. Not so hard that I feel nothing for him.
Because, at the best of times, he was still my dad.
He taught me to drive.
He was there for every graduation and rewards ceremony.
He helped me move into and out of college dorms and apartments.
He cried when he walked me down the aisle.
He paid off my husband’s school loans.
He read stories to my children.
He called me on every birthday.
He did typical dad-things.
And while we weren’t close at all and there are so many complicated feelings always associated with him (probably some of which have not yet been allowed to surface), yesterday — and today — I just felt sad. Sad that Christmases won’t be the same. Sad that Poppy and Skittle will never remember him. Sad that any future child of mine will never meet him. Sad that he was alone when he died. Sad that I can’t remember what I said the last time we talked. Sad that he may have felt unloved in his final days or years. Just so very, and unexpectedly, sad.
Last night, as I left the bathroom wiping my eyes, I heard Cupcake call for her dad. I don’t usually answer their calls for more water, hugs, books, and tickles because it seems to start a cascade of requests, but when I passed by her room yesterday, I felt drawn inside by her sweet voice. She was smiling at me from the top bunk and I walked to her and without saying a word, laid my head against hers and just drank in her warmth, her softness. I don’t know if she felt the wetness of my tears against her cheek, but she giggled and ran her fingers through my long hair.
And I hugged her, fiercely. Because it’s times like these when you acknowledge just how precious and fragile life is. When you can see all the wonderful, glorious years that stretch ahead of her and yet know with certainty just how fast they will pass. When you realize that your own days with her are getting shorter, slipping away, one by one.
So yesterday was a day like any other.
Except, it really wasn’t.
My dad died.
And I learned that I do love him after all.
And I was reminded that, in small ways, we’re all dying and we just have to cherish each other and the time that we have left together.