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What Do You Remember When They’re Gone?

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This week marks the five-year anniversary since my dad left this world and turned into my angel. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of him, wishing he were still here for love and guidance, and regretting the many times that we did not connect and that I did not appreciate the amazing gift that was my father.

I don’t know about how it is for others who have lost loved ones, but for me it’s not the big things that I hold on to, but the small moments and memories that constantly flash through my mind…

My dad eating a chocolate cake with a knife rather than fork. That way every sliver is like the first bite.

Family ice skating on Sunday mornings. I remember his gentle pacing as I learned to cross one leg over the other to make a turn at the end of the rink. I was never a great skater, but I became good enough to play club ice hockey in college, and the rhythms of the movements of skating remain a source of peace for me.

Have no ego when you drive, and always leave plenty of space between you and the car in front of you. If someone wants to cut you off, let them. It’s not worth it.

When I sign checks at the office, I draw a big happy face or a giant red bow on the statement part of the checks. Why? Because Dad always wrote a jolly HELLO! on his checks. He said it gave people a smile when they opened the envelope.

More small details… 

Never have a photo facing off the page—you want the eye leading into the words, not away from them…Don’t say “very unique.” Unique by definition is unique and needs no modifier.

When you make a decision, be decisive. Plan carefully. Research deeply. Talk to every wise person you can think of…and then decide and move forward.

Every day there are reminders of him, and in his absence, there are new lessons that are learned and new avenues to explore, independent of his input.

It’s incredible to see the woman that my mom became when, for the first time in 80+ years, she was free to do what she wanted to do, to be more than a mother and supportive wife. Not that she wasn’t her own version of a powerhouse, but with Dad’s departure, she was free to redefine herself, pursue her interests and spend time with her friends.

Children step into new roles as they fill voids left behind. Who will be the planner of family gatherings…and who will make those big decisions? Who will carve the turkey?

I never would have imagined the roles that I would have had to step into in my father’s absence, nor would I have realized the many lessons that had silently been absorbed into my body and soul and which were then called upon as situations arose. There was a very funny line from the 80’s sitcom My Two Dads when Paul Reiser wags his finger in conversation, pauses, looks down and then says, “When did I grow my mother’s finger?”

When did I grow my father’s insights?

This is the cycle of life. We learn from those in our lives—parents, grandparents, friends, siblings—and then when they are gone, we apply what we have learned to complete our own evolution and growth. Suddenly there are new powers and skills that had previously been silent waiting to be called upon.

As I look forward, what are the skills and lessons being absorbed by those around me? What small moments of magic? What pearls of wisdom? What cringeworthy mistakes that should never be repeated?

I don’t live my life focused on what “they” will remember when I’m gone. But I do live every day choosing my words and behaviors carefully, knowing that they are making an impact. I’m hoping that it’s a positive one.

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