[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns, and allowing a second chance for those who missed them the first time, I reprint them here, with permission. The following was originally printed in The Forum newspaper, on Jan. 11, 2014.]
By Roxane B. Salonen
Until last year, today’s date was like any other to me. Now, it’s part of my life’s timeline.
Strung along a horizontal marking of big moments like my birthday, college track nationals, my wedding day and my children’s’ births, there it will be, forevermore:
Jan. 11, 2013 – Dad’s passing.
It’s my new reality, and I’ve been warned this particular anniversary will be difficult. By the time this goes to print, I’ll be there.
But I also have hope that it won’t be as dreaded as some say, largely because of an event that happened at Christmas.
My aunt, the wife of my father’s oldest brother, died on Christmas. The next day, I received a call asking to sing at her funeral and gladly agreed.
The sendoff of this lovely woman, a longtime widow who raised her five children almost single-handedly, happened at the same cathedral where we said goodbye to Dad. The same funeral home hosted the visitation the night before, with the same last name featured and many of the same faces in attendance.
Through this event, I was able to revisit my earlier loss but with different emotions. It felt like hitting the “replay” button, but instead of the daughter, I was the niece, not quite so steeped in grief, and grateful to help sing my aunt into eternity, just as I had my father.
The interestingly timed repeat brought me to a new level of healing. From my revised vantage point, I could see death less as haunting and more a part of life.
In fact, this year has taken lots, but it’s given, too. With my father no longer just a phone call or “three hours west on I-94” away, I’ve found that despite the heaviness of loss and what it denies us, it can also provide new opportunities if we’re willing to seek them.
I can no longer hear Dad’s wry jokes in real time or watch his antics to make my children giggle, sound effects included. But I can laugh with my kids, and when I summon them or the dog with my four-fingered whistle, I can recall Dad’s amazing attention-getting whistle, achieved through curling his tongue just so.
I’ve become more mindful of his cousin who lives nearby but has no children or grandchildren. Though I can’t hang out with Dad, I can visit her and learn about the world they shared as kids in a small North Dakota town.
The days of sitting outside and watching the stars with Dad are over, and I can’t go on walks with him anymore, but I can enjoy strolls with my kids and point out the birds and their songs like he always did.
And while I won’t ever again enjoy a piece of pie and coffee with Dad, I can reach out to those at a local homeless shelter and break bread with them, as I did with friends a couple times in recent months.
I can’t interview Dad about his life to learn the kinds of things I yearn to know now but failed to ask when he was with us. But with my sister, I can dig into our family’s history and subscribe to Dad’s favorite magazine to connect with him through what he enjoyed.
And should I momentarily forget all that remains possible even in loss, I’ll likely be reminded by people like a friend who lost her father years ago. She recently gently took issue with a statement I’d made that all I can do for my father now is pray for him.
“You certainly can do more,” she said, listing things like being kind and gracious, teaching his grandchildren to be honorable, and helping bring the world back to Christ as he would have wanted.
Live up to the potential he foresaw for you, and you will make him the happiest camper in heaven,” she said. “Our loved ones in heaven are made aware of our concerns through the grace of God. He ‘sees’ all that you do, and prays for all your needs.”
Some days I do sense Dad cheering me on, just like at my track meets years ago. “Keep going, Rock, you can do it.”
And in my mind, after reaching for the baton of the runner behind me, I quickly glace at Dad before taking off. “Okay, Dad, I got this,” I say with my eyes. “Thanks for the push.”