In honor of the first anniversary of my Dad’s passing, I wrote him a letter. I am sharing this today, hoping that it may resonate or provide comfort to someone else who is also grieving. – Liz
It has been a whole year since I held your hand while you took your last breath. 365 mornings waking up and missing you – each day in disbelief that you really are gone. You were the strongest, smartest, and healthiest person I’ve ever known, yet you died so young. How does that happen? I genuinely believe that everything happens for a reason, so I’m keeping my head up and constantly moving forward, hoping that one day I find the answer.
A lot has happened in the last year without you. Your kids have cried, but they’ve also laughed. They’ve stumbled, they’ve fallen, and they’ve gotten back up and triumphed. They’ve failed and they’ve reached goals. They’ve celebrated birthdays and holidays. They’ve gotten job promotions, they’ve been accepted into programs, and they’ve had new opportunities and experiences they wished they could tell you about. And the family has grown.
You have two new grandkids. Two little boys who were born not long after you passed. I have to admit, when I see the smiling faces of my niece and nephews, my heart breaks. They don’t get to grow up with the best Grandpa in the world. This was your dream job and you’re not here. When your first grandchild was born, I was worried. I was afraid my niece would take over my self-proclaimed title as your favorite. But remember that card I sent you? I told you that one of the greatest blessings in my life was my special bond with my Grandpa – your Dad. And I was so excited that someone else would get to experience that. I knew you would be just as great of a Grandpa to your grandkids as your Dad has been to me. I get tears in my eyes knowing that these kids are missing out on growing up with their Grandpa.
While I know they need to grow up to be their own selves, I promised you that I’d make sure they know everything about their Grandpa. Every time I see them, I share something about you. I tell them the stories you would have told them if you were here. The same stories that you told me – the stories that have taught me lessons, shaped my values, helped me grow into the person I am today. I know someday my heart will fill with more joy than pain when I see your grandkids. I can’t wait for that day.
This past year has also brought loss to some friends. And the grief has brought us together – created a bond through an understanding of what each other is going through. We’ve learned a lot from each other and we’ve learned how to be helpful to others who are going through tough times. We’ve learned that sometimes just reaching out – even if you don’t know what to say – is better than not saying anything at all. We’re also determined to turn our losses into something great. And I think you’d be proud of that.
Many of your friends, colleagues, and clients stay in touch with me. They miss you as much as I do. And that’s comforting to know that so many still think of you on a regular basis. Your siblings have stepped in to take care of us, constantly checking on us. Your nieces and nephews miss their Uncle Billy, too. I love when they share their favorite Billy stories. And it’s ok if I get caught off guard emotionally – your niece gave me the best waterproof mascara for those moments. Cousins are the best.
And your parents – they just miss their Billy. You were the backbone of this family. And you were their little boy, no matter how old you were. Having Grandma and Grandpa to lean on, hearing their stories and sharing our grief has been the greatest blessing. Just being with them is healing. I thank God every day that I was born a Keating – without this family, I don’t know how I could handle losing you.
Not too long ago, I caught myself laughing so hard. Pure genuine laughter. Tears of joy – not sadness. Jonathan made me laugh so hard – by telling me a story about you. I know memories of you are going to start to bring more smiles and less tears. And Jonathan is helping me get there.
There have been numerous scholarships, programs, memorials, swim meets, golf outings, and other events named in your honor. There have been many awards and recognitions of your work in the community. There have been countless hours of service given and dollars donated in your name. I think having your name on so many things would have been uncomfortable for you, but I know you would be proud to see the impact your legacy has had – and will continue to have – on so many others. I’m beaming with pride just thinking about it. Dad, you were incredible. I can’t believe I got to be your daughter.
Thought of the Day is way harder than you ever let on. You put so much thought and effort into it. My favorite is when I share a quote that you had earmarked or highlighted in a book – I’ll always get a positive response from people on the list. I love that the most responses come on days I use a quote you picked. I’ve also had numerous people challenge me to use more quotes about God and faith as you did. It’s just another step in my quest to live more like you. Some people have even told me that I remind them of you. I don’t think there’s a greater compliment in the world. I’m so proud to be your daughter.
The blue and gold gym shoes you wore to my wedding in honor of my Bruins still sit underneath the dresser in your room in our house. I can’t bring myself to move them – partly because I don’t know what to do with them, and partly because every morning when I walk down the hall, I see them, think of you, and smile. Jonathan and I still play your favorite Pandora stations every now and then – Johnny Cash, Arlo Guthrie, Patti Page, Perry Como, Creedence Clearwater, Christmas in Yellowstone. I can’t believe I ever teased you about your musical preferences. You actually had great taste in music.
I also haven’t deleted your number from my phone yet. Every time I get in my car, it’s still the first number listed in favorites. I miss talking to you on my drive to and from work. I know you used to tease me saying I only called you because I was bored in the car. Sometimes that was true, but most of the time I just wanted to talk to my Dad. I wanted to hear what you were up to, what you were working on, and get your advice on something I had going on. I miss talking to my Dad. I miss our walks, our runs, our yoga classes, our spin classes. I miss swimming with you even though it was so annoying that you wanted to race every lap. I miss going to dinners with you, walking to Graeter’s with you, working on community projects with you, putting together Thought of the Day with you, and going on father-daughter trips with you. I also miss our annual coin contest. I hope you found the 2017 nickel I slipped in your pocket at the funeral home. I hope every time you stick your hand in your pocket and feel the nickel, you know I’m thinking about you.
Dad, in only 63 years, you managed to positively impact countless people and create a legacy that will endure for generations. I learned so much growing up with you. And I’m learning so much moving on without you. As you said, “to live on the hearts you leave behind is not to die.” And, you’ll live on in my heart forever.
Dad, when I count my blessings, I count you twice.
Daily Lenten Commitment: “Let no one come to you without leaving better and happier.” – Mother Teresa