The problem is, I don’t know the shape of this yet. I don’t know how much space it takes up inside of me, how it changes the outline of my body. I see myself in the mirror and I look the same. I hear myself, and I sound the same. But there is this thing, and I still don’t know how big it is or how it is going to change me.
My dad said: “I miss you everyday.” He told me that often, when we spoke, which was never often. I live in California and my dad lived in Chicago. Before he got sick, we hadn’t seen each other in over a year. My husband was in the habit of checking in with him. My dad would call my husband and ask for an update on all of us; me, my children, my siblings.
Often, my dad would text me and I would glance at my phone and realize that I hadn’t responded to his last few texts. Never intentionally. Just busy and taking him for granted in a way I always have … and never will again.
But my dad would say “I miss you everyday.” And he showed this to me: in little ways and big ways. He sent me every New York Times article about infant mental health, always with a message like: “you probably already saw this but….” I didn’t/I hadn’t. He always gave me too much credit. He was always slightly surprised when I didn’t know something he assumed was common knowledge. He knew just how to make you feel ignorant, but in a way that made you strive to be smarter. My dad would email out of nowhere: “thought of an idea for your book.” He would always sign off D.O.D (Dear Old Dad) just as his father did before him.
I was terrible at replying.
Today I took a picture of my son diving in swim class and thought: I should send this to my dad. But there was nowhere to send it. I just paused there, finger lingering over the phone.
It was only when my father died that I began to understand the scope of his life. It must always be this way with children. “Miss you everyday,” he said and this never surprised me. Of course he missed every day. I was his daughter, his first little girl. But my dad had four kids, a wife, five grandchildren, dozens of extended family members, hundreds of friends and colleagues. When he died I finally understood how busy and full his life had been. With friends and work and family and projects. Not just me.
This death is not the constant ache of losing a person you live with. My dad wasn’t in my every day. But he was in the background of my whole life. Believing in me. Thinking about me. A person who had ideas about my work, about how I could achieve my goals. Who spent time thinking and dreaming on my behalf. I lived my busy life but he was always there, and he believed in me, and was going to be so proud.
I know what he would say. Because he was a psychologist and brilliant and rational to the point of being annoying. He would say that this is all now internalized within me. This is what healthy attachments do for us. They live on, beyond the people themselves. Within the way we carry ourselves, within what we see when we look in the mirror. We see ourselves through the eyes of those who loved us most, even when those people are gone.
My dad will someday be right. This will be internalized. But today, the external is gone and the internal is not yet there. I am off balance.
I am still here. The same shape. The same outline. The same laugh and smile. And I like to work. And I love my life. And I don’t like to be sad. So I’m working and I’m busy and I’m not being sad. And I look at the video of my son diving and I send it to my sister and to my mom. I’m here and my life is full.
But no one will ever be as proud of me as he was. And not because they aren’t proud. Because no one has ever been as invested in my dreams as he was. Because he made my dreams his own.
The loss of a parent like my father, the best kind of parent, is not just the loss of a human. It is about a change in the shape of our lives. The foreground is the same but the background is different. I look the same, but I am adjusting to a world with a different sun, a different sky, a different moon. I look the same but I miss you. I miss you every day.