My dad would have been 56 today. He took his own life 9 years ago next month. Our relationship wasn’t great but the day of his memorial service is one of my top 3 worst days of my life. When you lose a parent either in early adulthood or earlier you get a lot more chances to be reminded that they aren’t there for a lot of life milestones. I graduated college the year after he died, I got married 2 years later. My daughter was born 4 years later. These are times when your dad is supposed to come alongside you and give you advice. Then there are all the holidays and birthdays as well as the anniversaries of their death.
That part is hard. Even writing about his death remembering those things he has missed is tough. However, the hardest part about my dad’s death was and continues to be the things that were missed while he was alive. I remember the whole memorial service but the thing that stands out to me was what happened after the service ended. As people got up to give their condolences, they made their way to the two people they could easily identify as family, my stepmother because well that’s obvious and then despite not knowing me they came to me. I am my dad’s first born but what drew then to me is that I look like my dad to the point that many of his lifelong friends remark about it anytime they see me.
The conversations that took place during this time taught me that my dad loved me was proud of me and talked to his friends about me often. Friends of his I never met knew my name, they knew where I was going to college and what I was studying. Some even asked about the internship that was supposed to start the next day. This shocked me. My dad and I had only reconnected over the last year. Before that he had only texted me once a year on my birthday just to say happy birthday but there was never a follow up. Here I was 22 years old finding out just how much my dad had loved me even if he hadn’t known how to show that or say it for several years.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because this story has shaped a lot of my life since and has a major impact on how I interact with my daughter. I went 10 years without being told directly by my dad that he was proud of me or loved me. When I did hear it I had to hear it from his friends. People always say you should tell people how you feel about them because you never know when or if you will see them again. I agree but I want to offer a reframing of that idea. Live and interact with others in a way that they do not have to hear from others how much you loved them when your gone.
This is more than just saying you love someone or are proud of them. This is being intentional in your interactions with them. It means talking them up when they are around not just when they leave the room. This means enabling them to achieve and grow.
Before we end, I want to say two more short things. First, my relationship with my dad was not solely his fault. We both made decisions, and this didn’t happen in a vacuum there were many things that were outside of our control as well that hindered us from building a better relationship. Second, if you need help reach out to someone whether that be a friend or a hotline the resources are out there, and people love you.