Dear Dad (Year 4)

In honor of the fourth 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 has been 1461 days since I held your hand for the last time. Every March brings a feeling of renewal and sadness. As my backyard turns green, it reminds me of the heartbreak of losing you. The first time I saw the daffodils bloom through the window in front of me was when you were in your final days in the room behind me. Although the daffodils still spark some tears, I always end up smiling. The symbolism of the daffodils isn’t the renewal of life after loss – it’s the symbolism of your favorite Thought of the Day, The Daffodil Principle: “stop waiting to make a difference, start NOW!” You’re still finding ways to share your favorite lessons with me even when you’re gone.

I missed you during this pandemic. Part way through this strange year, I came across the quote from Sam Lefkowitz, “When asked if my cup is half-full or half-empty, my only response is that I am thankful I have a cup.” That is the perfect description of what your attitude would have been during this time and it kept my heart focused on one thing: gratitude. You would have been thankful for more walks outside, you would have been thrilled to see your family together on Zoom for the holidays (especially since you’d get to bed on time), and it would have been easier to schedule meetings for your numerous volunteer projects. I couldn’t help but think of your final weeks of life as you became sicker and weaker and stuck at home. You didn’t let it stop you – you continued to have meetings to make sure service projects moved forward. When the cards were stacked against you, you still focused on what you could do for your community. Your commitment to others was unwavering.

I missed you when Grandpa died. It was so hard to grasp the idea that the two most important men – the two most influential in shaping me into who I am today – were gone. Although, I’m glad that in your 63 years you never had to know what it felt like to lose a parent. I don’t wish that heartbreak on anyone. But I did wish you were around to read the tributes, share the stories, and laugh at the funny memories. You and your siblings raised an incredible Dad and because of you guys, we had the greatest Grandpa in the world. I’m still in disbelief that my kids won’t have a similar experience – growing up with you as their Grandpa. 

The day before Grandpa passed, I got to tell him we were expecting another baby. It reminded me of the well-meaning, but odd-humored person at your funeral who pointed to my pregnant sister-in-law and your casket saying, “welp, one in, one out.” It’s that constant reminder that sometimes feels like a punch in the gut – life keeps moving on despite the toughest of losses. I’m grateful for that reminder. Life is short. Do as much good as I can before my time is up and it’s someone else’s turn. One in, one out.

I occasionally find myself glancing up at the portrait Carl Samson painted of you and Grandpa and think about what you would do in different situations. Both sets of eyes looking at me gives me reassurance. Each glance reminds me of stories you both shared to teach me lessons about life. I can still hear both of your voices tell those stories in my head. I hope I never forget what your voices sound like. Although my kids will never know your voices, Jonathan and I have been teaching them your favorite words. When we drop something, our daughter will shout “uuhhps” instead of “oops” just like you. When she answers her toy phone, she shouts “yellow!” instead of “hello!” just like Grandpa. Sorry, we’re not going to teach her Warshington instead of Washington. 

WJK and WJK, Jr. portrait by Carl Samson.

I missed you the day our son was born. The halls of the hospital were eerily calm and quiet during a spike in the pandemic. I remember taking a brief moment to tell you your 8th grandchild was on the way. But, I believe you already knew that – I believe you met him before any of us did. I think that’s why he’s got a bit of you in him. He’s always so laid back, never needing anything special, just happy to be here – just like you were. I wish you were here for walks with the stroller, for his first time in the pool, and watching him giggle when we tickle him under his chin. I wish you could see how much his big sister loves him, how she counts his toes and shouts his name. These are the moments you would have loved the most.

I missed you when I started a new career in public service. After spending your childhood watching your Dad serve his community in various public service roles, I think you would have been filled with stories for me. I imagine our father-daughter walks and how our conversations would flow. Probably a lot like they always did – one of us talking through a problem from every angle until we saw it more clearly. I miss those walk-and-talks – not just because you taught me how to see things from different perspectives, but also because you taught me how to listen. 

On my first day at City Hall, I walked up the big marble stairway and noticed the indentations on the steps. I thought of the thousands of people who had walked those steps before me, each leaving their mark in history: those who served their city, those who came to advocate for their communities, and those who came to ask for help. I also think of you as a little boy chasing your Dad up those steps. I hope someday my kids will chase me up the same steps and I hope someday they’ll understand the significance of the worn marble and what it represents. In the meantime, I’ll keep taking the stairs, wishing you could walk them with me. But I won’t get too lost in thought. I inherited your shuffle and I really don’t want to trip on the steps.

You always loved to tell stories about the campaign trail with your Dad. I wish you were here for mine. You would have loved going to all the fish frys, meeting new people and finding things you had in common. You would have enjoyed walking in parades with your grandkids and running into someone you knew at every turn. And you would have rolled your eyes at all the mudslinging in politics because you always said, “Leadership is relationship-driven. How you treat people matters.” It really does.
I missed you on those big milestones, but I missed you most on the days in between. I missed your calls when your computer wasn’t working, I missed you sending me copies of articles in the mail with your business card attached, and I missed your lip quiver when you had exciting news to share. One of the days I missed you the most was the first time my daughter colored a picture. All I wanted to do was take it to your office and hang it on your refrigerator door. 

If your loss has taught me anything, it’s that life happens on those days in between. To live for those little moments because that’s what you miss the most. So much can happen in a day and so much can be missed if you aren’t present. I’m grateful for that lesson. I’m grateful I had you and Grandpa for as long as I did. And I’m grateful to continue your legacy in the way I raise my kids each and every day. 

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

Liz (aka AG)

Dear Dad (Year 1)
Dear Dad (Year 2)
Dear Dad (Year 3)

Leave a Reply