A month ago my father was alive.
Two days before that he was still hoping for a miracle pass, a hail Mary, that would buy him the time he hadn't accepted he was losing.
I have lost family members. I have lost friends. I have lost adored pets. I have a degree in social work and I am at my best when I am managing a crisis - it turns out, however, that there is no way to manage your own crisis, bandage your own soul, particularly when faced with saying goodbye to a parent too soon.
This last month has been a tornado of emotions - anger, hatred, deep sorrow, inappropriate laugh-out-loud humor. I have been asked over and over by people who love me and support me and hold me up "Are you okay?" and then answer has never once been yes.
Except that I am totally okay until I am totally not.
I have found my grief to be like a rain soaked woolen sweater with fussy brass buttons - suffocating, uncomfortable, smothering - hard to take off and discard. There are days, or more appropriately, moments where I am just perfectly okay.
I am living my normal hectic life that I live; picking up after my house of mess makers, doing the daily things that somehow endlessly fill my hours - errands, homework, practices, play dates, and occasionally home cooked meals. I am just tooling along living my life, wearing some flimsy armor, and then suddenly I am fiddling with those soaking wet brass buttons, not knowing whether I am trying to shrug off or on my grief soaked sweater.
My dad was a complicatedly simple man. While he rarely knew how to say it, and he often struggled to show it, all he wanted was for his family to be happy and feel loved. For years he was an enigma to me, an unknowable shadow, an off color superhero. For years after that we lived raw emotions around each other, with words said that couldn't be unsaid and hard moments that I would never trade, as they eventually became our solid foundation. A foundation of patience and forgiveness. We learned to be in each others' corners, to pat each other on the back, to tell each other that no matter what each of us were facing we had someone to unconditionally back us up -- with love, with honesty, and more often than not, with a good glass of red wine.
I have no doubt that I will miss him everyday, even though never in my life did I see him everyday.
Already, in the past month, I have picked up the phone to tell him about Addison's first day of third grade; about Brenna not looking back as she walked into her first day of preschool. I have wanted to tell him of wines Andy and I have tasted, and how my garden exploded this year. I have wanted to bitch to him about my damn half marathon training and invite him down for the weekend for a grilled steak and an evening on the patio. I have found myself longing to sit in his presence - even if we were only watching the damn History Channel together.
I often find myself lost in sweet little memories. It's the simple memories of everyday life that I am finding the most comforting.
I think of the eggs he cooked in the apartment he had in Pittsfield - they had far too much pepper and I loudly complained, but he convinced me to eat them. As an adult I found his eggs and his BLTs to be heavenly.
I remember the day he told me Kevin was born, making my place as his baby girl secure.
I think of our breakfast in Roger's Park my second week at Loyola when he told me he would give me space to find my way in Chicago, but that he would never be far. I remember how we laughed at the voicemail I left on his work phone because I had successfully figured out how to change the bulb in my complicated Ikea desk lamp.
I remember the numerous dinner and lunch dates we had throughout all the years we shared in Chicago - the Christmas lunches at the Walnut Room; just the two of us and an enormous perfectly decorated tree.
I can't help but think of the way he looked at me when I graduated from college and graduate school, pride and joy and love and hope all mingled into one sheepish smile.
I think of how he showed up at my bedside when I was mugged and wouldn't leave until I fell asleep.
I remember when I told him that I was moving in with Andy because it made good financial sense, the logic I thought he'd respect; he got silent and told me that money is never more important than love.
And I smile at the memory of the parties he threw, including my friends and family and his neighbors, and the ridiculously embellished stories he told while he grilled and sipped a gin and tonic.
I think of how he forgot to let go of my hand when we met Andy at the end of aisle, and how in his last days he told me how proud he was of my marriage.
I remember his ridiculous love of his granddaughters - his slices of pumpkin pie. They had him wrapped around their pinkie fingers, and he loved all of it.
I think of our condo in Chicago, where he would stop almost weekly to share coffee or breakfast with me and Addison and pick up whatever she repeatedly dropped.
I remember holding his hand last summer, in the hospital, telling him it wasn't time to give up. I think of dancing with him cheek to cheek on my wedding night and marveling at what an elegant dancer he was.
I remember that at one point, not so very long ago, he was strong, and driven, and fully alive.
I cannot help but think about the last time I saw his eyes - he opened them to take in one last look at his first born granddaughter, simultaneously taking my breath away.
I will forever remember him squeezing my hand and my older brother's hand at the same time. I will forever remember the moment his soul moved on. I will forever be changed by being by his side - through our tough beginning, through our laugh-filled middle, and through his peaceful, heartbreaking end.
I know that my life will slowly go back to its everyday mundaness. I just assuredly know, that once in awhile I will feel alone, adrift, upended. As my grief ebbs, I know I will see my dad beyond the dreams I have of him sipping wine. I will see him in my brother's mannerisms, in the shape of my hands, in my daughters' silliness. I will think of him in the heat of August, over a glass of French Rose, while Andy prepares a perfect steak on the grill.
And in time I will smile, even though I am pretty sure my heart will forever be bruised.