In the 365 days since my father died on our family vacation in Cape Cod, we have faced and surmounted a litany of firsts—from big ticket items, like holidays, birthdays and anniversaries to smaller hurdles, like the first time my mom had to zip up her own dress or the night I absentmindedly called my dad’s phone and heard it ringing in my own desk.
Today is the last first. The first anniversary of his death.
In some ways, it feels like just yesterday I was sitting next to him on the beach. In others, it feels like I have aged a lifetime in these 365 days. A year is so short, but the days are so long.
I remember every detail about that day: what I was wearing, what I made the boys for dinner, the smell of sand and salt lingering in their hair as I kissed them goodnight, the text I was about to send when I heard my mom scream, the way my father looked lying lifeless on the ground, the moment I had to choose between being a daughter and being a mother.
My 7-year-old son had heard the calls for 911, the frantic thumping of feet up the stairs, the yelling from the next bedroom as we tried to do CPR on my dad, and he called out for me—a guttural cry that came from a fear so deep it could form no words.
I had to choose. Left or right? My father, or my son?
I hesitated for a fraction of a second, trapped in the space between childhood and motherhood, before I knew where I had to be. You might think I made the wrong choice, but until you have stood in a doorway yourself and had to choose between the man you came from and the boy who came from you, you have no idea.
Our job—our instinct—is to protect the people we love from unbearable pain, whatever the cost. I could not protect my mother, my brother, my husband; they had already seen it, touched it, felt it. But I still had a chance with Jack. I felt a desperate need to shield him, even if for just one more minute.
So I lay in his bed, listening to the muffled voices of the paramedics in the room next door, with my body wrapped tightly around my sobbing, panicked child, and I told him everything was going to be okay. It wasn’t a lie, because in my heart I still had the hope of the little girl who had danced on her father’s feet and fallen asleep on his chest. I was the little girl who believed in Santa Claus and fairy tale endings, the little girl whose father had always fixed her problems and soothed her hurts. Surely, he would do it again. As I whispered in Jack’s ear, I wasn’t just reassuring my son. I was reassuring the little girl who was still inside me.
Today is just a day. I will miss him no more or no less than I did yesterday. When the clock strikes midnight, there will be no magic wand that erases our grief or fills the void. Nor would I want there to be. There is no expiration date on grief. Grief, after all, is just a measure of the vastness of our love. Grief never really ends, because love never ends.
As my dad wrote me on the eve of my departure for college, “We have not reached the end of the line, just the termination of this route. We are all changing trains, still journeying on together, destined by blood and love to cross and recross one another’s trails.”
Today is just a day. And if I’m lucky, tomorrow, there will be another one. Every day is another chance to love hard. Every single moment. If you do that, you will never have a moment of regret.
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