I’ve been avoiding you.  Up until now, I really couldn’t stand the thought of addressing in words what I think or feel about anything.

When I taught writing, I used to have my students visualize a stage in front of a full audience.  I told them to look and see who was in the audience.  To question why the audience members came to listen to them.  And to try to come up with a way to grab and maintain the audience’s attention.  It’s how I have always written.

But four weeks ago, an empty seat appeared – front and center – in my audience.  I lost my favorite subscriber and my biggest fan – my dad.  For the last few weeks, I have visited my dashboard with plans to write.  But when I step out onto my mental stage, I just keep seeing that empty seat.  And the words don’t come.

Since the death of my father, I have been frequently asked by many people how I’m doing.  Several times a day.  No, I don’t resent the question or think it’s stupid.  It’s genuine concern.

But I find that, despite my standard response of “I’m doing alright, thanks”, I am struck by the realization that I really have no idea how I’m doing.  The past six weeks are a bit of a blur.  For me, it’s still the end of April, and I seem to have a lot of trouble fixing the correct date in my head.   June something.

I spent two weeks in a zone of automaticity – ICU, eat, sleep, repeat.   And, because my father’s chances for a full recovery looked so good, tears were not acceptable.  It was extremely important to me that he understood how well he was doing — which he was.  I knew he needed strength, so that’s what he got.

And then the second stroke attacked.

I had been home for a little over three hours on my stepsister’s night shift at the hospital, when I got the call to return to Gainesville.  A little over an hour later, I arrived and was informed of the gravity of the situation.  There were a couple of last-ditch efforts, tests, results, etc.  But I knew long before the doctors finally stated it that he was gone.  He would never have wanted to be kept alive artificially, so we declined to keep him on life support.  He died peacefully two hours later.

I cried all that day.  From the first realization in the wee hours of the morning until he passed that night. I hadn’t shed a single tear until then.  Daddy and I used to joke that there was never a need to fall apart until it becomes absolutely necessary.  But I fell apart that night alright.  The whole cycle of life struck me so hard.  I thought of how much my grandmother loved her little boy.  How much I loved her little boy as my father.  What his death will steal from my children.  How easily we roll and overlap from child to parent to child again.

The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was let go of his hand.

As we stepped out of the hospital a few minutes later, it began to pour –which struck me as oddly appropriate.  Like maybe the sky was crying too.  And I went home to learn how to no longer be my daddy’s little girl.

The past month has been another blur.  Flowers, cards, photos, music, out-of-town mourners, the visitation, writing his eulogy, the funeral.  Policies, accounts, closing his practice, probate.  The decision to return to work for the last couple of weeks of school.  I’ll admit – the thought of taking a personal leave was mighty tempting.

I have lost loved ones before, but I have never experienced a grief like this.  It’s profound.  Despite legally being an adult  for twenty years, there was a part of me that was still somebody’s little girl.  There was still somebody on the planet who had to take me in should I need shelter.  Somebody to bail me out if I got in a mess.

Now there is no one left to take care of me — but me.  Suddenly, every decision I make will come from my own analysis.  I no longer have the wisdom of my father, something I relied upon more than I realized.  I’m 38.  And, though it sounds crazy, I feel like a grown-up for the first time.   Feeling my mortality and a loss of innocence.

Through all of this, I have made a discovery.  I am more my father’s daughter than I even knew.  People looked at me strangely throughout the week of the funeral.  At the visitation, the service, and the reception.  People kept remarking about how “pulled together” I was, how I could still laugh and make jokes, and how they were amazed I could deliver the eulogy without crying — on the outside.  And it brought me back to when my father lost my stepmother to cancer.  I remember him going about the business of carrying on after her death.  Him going through the motions, but private in his life-altering grief.  I see him in me.  And I am realizing more each day how much of what makes me tick is inherited from him and his approach to life.  I loved him dearly.  But I liked him even more.   How I’m going to miss him liking me.

Instead of answering how I’m doing, I should just start saying, “I’m doing.”  Which is exactly what he would tell me to do.  Just keep doing.  Get up every day.  Go to work.  Take care of what is necessary.  Go to dinner with good friends.   Laugh with your children.  See a movie.  Until it isn’t such an effort to move about.  If you do otherwise, you’ll just sit and rust.  A concept my dad would never approve of.

(He used to tell people he would never retire.  Even if he just kept a handful of clients and worked one day a week.  He maintained that if you retire, you can never go on vacation.)

So, here I am stepping out on my stage again.  And, instead of avoiding the empty seat in the front row, I’m going to try to visualize him sitting in it still.  Still encouraging me in my decisions.  Still proud of me.  Still the greatest friend I’ll ever have.

And hope that he is still subscribing from far away.

36 responses »

  1. I’m sorry for your family’s loss. My father, whom I was very close to, passed away three years ago. The weeks and months following his death, I was in the same state you describe yourself to be in and believe me when I say this, it’s not so much that the grief gets eaiser, you just kind of get used to it. Grief is a strange thing.

  2. yoongz says:

    Hugs for you… thinking of you…

  3. I am so very sorry for your loss.

  4. karen says:

    Thought this is why the apparent silence. Know that I have been praying for all of you. Will continue to do so. Just keep doing. Yes, so true. You will never know just how deeply you have touched (and continue to touch) my life as well as the lives of others. Thank you for using your writing gift.

  5. Suzanne says:

    He is there and he is immensely proud. Close your eyes for a moment, you’ll be able to feel it.

  6. Manic Mom says:

    I’m new here since last week and since then I have thought of you often. My parents died when I was 11 and 12 years old. I get the little girl thing. I still feel like that off and on and I’m 37 now. I wish no “little girl” had to lose their Daddy. I will keep you in my prayers and thought. Reading about your relationship with your Dad made me feel once again how I felt about my Dad. I look forward to reading more of your blog.

  7. Tessa says:

    I am so sorry for your loss.

  8. Dad of Two says:

    I am 42. I never met my paternal grandmother -she died when my dad was 14. I lost my paternal grandfather at the age of 14. Sadly, that didn’t bother me too terribly. I lost my maternal grandfather at the age of 21. When we were in the funeral home making arrangements, it started snowing. Then it stopped before we left. I like to think God was grieving with us. Managed to keep it together until the funeral, where I completely lost it. I still miss him, and he’s been gone 20 years. Having said that, it does get easier. It will get easier. Give it time. And treasure the memories you and your kids have of him, while you all make more memories together.

    And don’t forget, it’s okay to loose it now and then! Especially when it’s something like this.

  9. I am sorry to hear about your father. “I’m doing” describes how I felt after mine passed away and I understand how important it is to keep “doing” as you figure out where you go from here. Thank you for sharing your feelings.

  10. Sandi says:

    This is beautiful. Thank you. You’re doing and that’s the best thing to say.

    I have found it good to recognize my father in myself, the older I get. I am sure your dad saw himself in you and was quite proud.

    You’re doing. You’re doing great. Thank you for checking in and letting us know. 🙂

  11. Thank you. My mother is old and a little senile, and I’m still mighty scared. I think I fear her death more than my own.

  12. I’m relieved to see you’re back – and that you’re doing – and totally understand your absence from your blog. I’ve been checking back regularly, hoping to see that you’re okay – at least kind of okay.

  13. Lynne Pardi says:

    Leigh, your father IS still in your audience– I absolutely believe that. He is watching his courageous, talented, wonderful daughter and he is very, very proud. I wish I could take some of your pain away; but, only time and faith can do that. You really are doing well. Your Dad was quite right in his thinking that you have to just keep “putting one foot ahead of the other,” so to speak. Just keep doing normal, ordinary “stuff,” stay close with your husband & kids. You will be OK (even though it probably feels like nothing will ever be OK again!).

    Your post was so touching. I could feel your pain and your aching lonliness. It is a very honest and heart-wrenching piece of writing. One of the other commentors suggested that it might help others who have suffered a terrible loss to read it. I agree. I hope that you will share it with the world some day, when you are ready.

    In the meanwhile, many prayers are with you and your family. Take care of yourself and believe that your father’s love is still very much with you.

  14. Patti Van Burkleo says:

    My heart breaks for you. I was 38 when I lost my father 18 years ago. It is profound. It is never-ending but somehow endured and always right under the surface. Still today, there are few days that pass without some small reminder of him. How lucky you are to have had such a wonderful, loving, spirited presence in your life. I know you are numb and confused and weary of putting on “a face”. But I bet in 3-4 months you might feel slightly like yourself again. I truly hope so. Hang in there and Godspeed.

  15. Tracy says:

    Thank you for so openly sharing such a deeply personal process. And thank you for sharing your dad with us readers. I pray for you the peace that passes understanding.

  16. ylewis says:

    So beautiful. Thank you for letting us into your heart and mind. Praying for you and your family.

  17. Thank you for being open with us. I lost my dad suddenly 5 years ago. He was the one that taught me how to act in every kind of situation. I always expected that when the time came for someone of the family to die, that my dad would be there showing us how to grieve. When he was the first to go, we were all lost. One thing I see in your message is that you had a dad worth missing. Me too. And that is so much more then a lot of people. Blessings to you on this journey.

  18. Theresa says:

    I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your Dad. I lost my Dad April 19, 2010. Reading your blog really touched my heart and brought me right back to where you are now. I lost my Mom the year before to a stroke, and the part about not having a parent to fall back on, to ask for advice on decisions, to help you out of a bind.. Just knowing that you are at the top of your family now, it’s so hard. I was and still am very much a daddy’s girl. I feel what you are going through, and I thank you for sharing your experience, your pain, and how you are coping. I for one am in your audience, cheering you on and missing my Dad too.

  19. Ana Santoyo says:

    It was nice to see your blog again. Even if it is to say you are feeling sad, indifferent, etc. Your are my piece of reality. You speak what most people don’t want to share in a casual conversation with someone. Please keep “doing” what you feel a calling to do. I and many many others who follow your blog will be honored that you have shared with us at all. Be Blessed.

  20. Sylvie says:

    Thank you for the clarity and honesty of your writing. Wishing you strength in your journey – your dad sounds like a wonderful man.

  21. judithornot says:

    My father died when I was 6, and it felt like my world ended. But as I look back over the 54 years since, I realize he has always been there for me, even when I didn’t know it. Your father will ALWAYS be there for you (Really), just on a different level. 🙂

  22. What a beautifully written, heart-felt post. It described exactly how I felt when I lost my dad. I’m sure a lot of people who, like me, could not put into words what you so eloquently did will relate.

    Take care.

  23. What amazing, raw and loving post. I felt the same way when my Mom passed that I was alone in the world and had to be a grown up even though I was married with 4 children. I know it is silly and selfish, but I thought now no one would ever make my birthday special, no one to share gossip with, and love me like she did. Right before she died she told me “I am so sorry to leave you alone”. I told her that I was not alone, I had my family. But as the years have gone by I understand what she was trying to telling me.
    I was terrified as others were when 9/11 happened. She had only been gone a few months. I needed my Mom to tell me everything was going to be ok. I had to be the grown up. I thought that was going to be one of the worse days of my life and I had to it with out her…
    Mom died 4 months after Joseph was born. She never knew the trials and tribulations we have gone through. I missed her guidance and reassurance everything was going to be ok. Going through his spinal surgery I missed her so bad. When he began being ravaged by seizure I cried for her. When Joseph nearly died I craved her patting my hand and saying everything will be ok. After going through this and another year of uncontrolled seizures did I finally feel her strength in me. I miss her everyday and will till the end of my life. I think about my children and what they will feel when I leave them.
    When people would ask me, “how am I doing?” I would say it sucks, plain and simple.
    A friend gave me a card when she died that said welcome to the “I miss my Mom club”. I thought that was horrible to tell someone who had just lost their Mom. But I get it now.
    Thank you for sharing. I am so so sorry that you have lost Dad.

  24. Ann says:

    You and he are both blessed for having had each other. I know he is proud of you.

  25. Oh, sweetie! We lost our dad in Feb, under similar cercumstances. I have to let you in on a secret. That chair is empty, but someone will come to take his place, eventually. But wait, don’t grieve too much. Just immagine the audience, but look not out, but up. Up over there, the invisable audience of those STILL WATCHING, still rooting for YOU. Those who no longer need the physical chair, but an entire gallery of relatives, friends, aquaintences, sitting or reclining on the edge of these Earthly cares, still cheering us on. They now see us far more clearly than they ever did in life. But we can only picture dimly, but they are still there. You play to a larger audience that you will ever know! Take care.

  26. Matthew Riccardi says:

    Simply amazing once again Leigh! You always seem to somehow capture the essence of what is in my mind at time as if we were truly kindred spirits. Obviously I have not lost a parent, but the irony I face (as you seemed to also) is that I rely heavily on them for advice; more so now in my 40’s than when I was a smartass know-it-all in my 20’s! It seems the older I get, the wiser my parents are and I dread the day I won’t have them to learn from or gp to for advice. Thanks for your candor as always.

  27. tstarmom says:

    Beautiful, beautiful writing. Love your reflection on the circle of life and death and so glad you shared. So sorry for your loss.

  28. Jim Reeve says:

    I too know how you feel and it mat be cliche, but over time you will begin to feel better. You are very strong and brave to post your feelings in regards to your father’s passing, which is something that I don’t think I could have done back then.

    The one nice thing about the death of a loved one is how it can make the love and relationships with other people stronger. It’s like because you’ve been through something terrible, your family bonds will become stronger.

    What you should do now is try and remember the good times you had together. That way you’ll be able to emotionally accept what happened sooner. I wish you and your family all the best in this tough time.

  29. javinsmama says:

    What a beautiful post. As difficult as I imagine that was to write, it is exactly what a person who’s recently lost a parent needs to read. Thank you for your honesty and transparency. Your father is in you- forever. God has linked you until the end of time. I send prayers for peace for your aching heart and hugs from a stranger.

  30. Kaye Chastain says:

    So loving…so funny…so touching…so very you. What a beautiful tribute to an equally beautiful life. My dad, who passed away 16 years ago…has it been that long??…used to tell me that sometimes we just have to gut up. And so you have. Your dad is proud of you…and so am I.

  31. stepmom says:

    He is still there, cheering you on, proud of you and loving you and your children.

  32. What a beautiful post. Your dad would be doing the same as I just did: crying, smiling and laughing. He probably is.

    My dad died when I was 34 and one of the things I remember most clearly about that time is telling my brother that 34 years wasn’t long enough to have a dad. Another is how I had managed to get through those first couple of weeks with no problems, get back to work, daily routine and all of that … and then be unable to get out of the car to play a football game with my friends some three weeks later; totally incapacitated by grief. I am still amazed by that power.

    I think that “I’m doing” is a perfect way to answer the question of how you’re doing. People will either get it or they won’t. At the very least it may make them think. I have a friend whose regular greeting to everyone he runs into is “How’s it going?” and I find it amusing that he and anyone else who happens to be in earshot of my standard answer laugh whenever they hear it: “It’s going.”

    You’re doing, and it’s going. And trust me, your dad is still subscribed. ♥ ♥

    • Linda Bale says:

      I do understand your thoughts. My dad died in 1988 and his “word” to me was always “Don’t vegetate girl” Not in a gruff manner life it sound sust a way of remeinding me life goes on and there is always hope in the futrue if you get up and do something. when he died I didi somethig for about the next 20 years. I raised 5 children and tried to move through the loss not get over it. I still miss him terribly but I just don’t let myself vegitate. touching post and thanks for sharing your heart with us.

      • Linda Bale says:

        Ok spelling errors corrected. Not in a gruff manner like it sounds, just a way of reminding me life goes on. Too tired to type tonight. sorry

  33. Marlene says:

    Wow…I can’t find the words to say how deeply that touched me. How blessed the two of you are to have had shared the depth and breath of love, such that is written into those lines; It is a rare love. One day when you can think a bit more past the here and now, please consider having this published beyond this forum. By doing so you will touch the wider audience who will benefit from your loving heart.

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