Dear Dad (Year 3)

In honor of the third 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

Dear Dad,

It’s been 1096 days since you went home to Heaven. I remember those last few hours vividly as I sat by your side eating gummy bears, playing your favorite songs, and editing your final Thought of the Day, never wanting to leave your side. 

This past year, I missed you for an extra day. You used to love Leap Day – it was an extra day in the year to chase your dreams. A bonus day to put in the extra work. For me, it was an added day to think about you, to realize I am still in disbelief that you aren’t here, and to challenge myself to make the most of the time I have left.
Each phase of grief has put me in a new mindset. My current phase can be summed up by one of your favorite songs – John Fogerty’s “Centerfield.” If I live as long as you did – to age 63 – my life is already halfway over. How am I going to spend my time? What am I doing to make a positive impact for the next generation? Put me in coach, I’m ready to play, today. I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone and put myself in the game. I’m going to make something of the life I have left to live.

For the first two and a half years you were gone, I visited you at the cemetery once per month. It was my time with you. This past summer, I broke the streak. I stopped visiting every month. It wasn’t because I stopped missing you. It wasn’t because I moved on. It was because I learned to find you in new ways. I see you when I meet new people and hear their stories. I see you when someone tells a “Dad” joke. I see you when we hit a roadblock in a community project and find a creative solution. I see you when I watch Dads cheer on their daughters. I see you when I get the courage to speak up when someone is challenging my values. I see you when I live the lessons you taught me by example. 

I also see you in people. I see you when Grandma does your lip quiver – she can recreate your smile perfectly. I see you when my daughter looks into Grandpa’s eyes and holds his hand. In some ways I pretend she’s holding your hand through him. It makes my heart so full. 

I see you when someone extends a helping hand, when someone wants to introduce me to a person I’d enjoy meeting, when someone encourages me to chase my dreams. I felt your presence this week, when for the first time, my daughter looked at your picture hanging in her room and smiled and waved. It even feels like you’re here when my little girl grabs the TV remote and flips a million channels per minute. She didn’t turn on golf, though. Sorry. 

There were many milestones you missed this year. I wanted to have your encouragement and reassurance when I went back to work after my maternity leave. Last summer would have been the first time my daughter could take you out for a Father’s Day ice cream cone. You weren’t here for her first Thanksgiving, first Christmas, and first birthday. 

Although those milestone are important, one thing I’ve learned is that the biggest things in life are actually the little things. I missed you most when I couldn’t send you a picture of her first smile, when I couldn’t call you when she was sick for the first time, and when you weren’t with us when she learned how to splash in the pool. I wanted to tell you when she had her first grilled cheese – your favorite – and about the extra long bath she had following a spaghetti dinner. You would have loved having her wrap her tiny hands around your finger, reading “girl power” books to her, taking her to women’s basketball games, watching Snoopy cartoons with her, and singing along to the Eddie and the Cruisers soundtrack. You would love playing with her mini basketball hoop and her favorite stuffed bunny. It’s these little moments that make life so full. Thanks for teaching me that.
Parenthood is hard, yet so rewarding. I now understand why you loved being a Dad so much. I get why you always wanted to hang out, why you worked so hard for us, and why you always did your best to set a strong example for us to look up to. I understand why you reinforced that “time” over “things” were most important in life. When we were taking care of you when you were sick, you kept saying, “this is good practice for when you’re a parent.” And that’s true. I think I’m stronger, more confident, and ready to take on any challenge because of that experience. But I learned even more from watching your example throughout my life. There are numerous lessons I learned from you that help guide me each day. Jonathan constantly tells me “your Dad would be so proud of you right now.” I hope he’s right. 

People still share stories about you, they tell me how you continue to inspire them, and they serve their community in honor of you. It’s the most amazing thing to know others still feel your presence, too. That there’s so much good in this world because of you. I think my favorite thing people say to me is this: “I miss him, too.” It’s so simple, but so comforting and full of love.
There’s an old belief that you die twice – once when you take your last breath on Earth, and again when someone says your name for the last time. And, Dad, let me tell you – your name, your legacy, your memory, your example is still full of life. I can feel it all around me – and will continue to spread that love every day I have left to live. 

I love you. I miss you. I am so proud to be your daughter. And when I count my blessings, I count you twice.

Liz (A.G.)

Daily Lenten Commitment: “Let no one come to you without leaving better and happier.” – Mother Teresa

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