Today is my Dad’s birthday. It’s hard to believe he died 8 years ago. That eight entire years have passed, and so much more living has happened for me, since he died. It’s hard to believe I’ve been without any parents now for eight years. But it’s amazing to see where things have gone in my life since his death. Not only the good, but also the challenges and hardships. Not only have those struggles taught me more about myself, they’ve taught me so much more about my dad. You see, he was also widowed. It was a journey I never expected to go on that horrible day when I got the phone call that my fiance was killed in the accident. A journey of walking in my father’s footsteps in so very many ways. Of being able to see with new eyes the depth of his love for me.
My dad struggled with depression and alcoholism for most of his life. I watched it periodically destroy him, and strain our relationship in such complex ways over the years. But for a time, when I was between the age of 9 and 17, he was sober. He went to AA meetings weekly. And though I wouldn’t quality our life as normal or healthy by any means, he did create some semblance of stability in my life at a time when his had fallen apart.
The catalyst of his sobriety? My mom’s death. I don’t quite know how it all went down… whether he had begun to stop before she died, or after, or what the main motivator was. I wish today I could ask him those questions. I wish I could know… how on earth did you stop drinking? How on earth, when the love of your life had been ripped from you, and you were certainly plagued with guilt for how your addictions created unhappiness in your marriage and family…. How?
This has been one of the biggest realizations for me since losing the love of my own life. The thought that someone already struggling with addiction could somehow NOT turn to that at such a time of total agony and fear. I may have known abstractly before becoming a widow myself, but being widowed is what made me feel the depth and magnitude his decision on whole new levels.
This life keeps surprising me as I move forward, with more layers of my dad’s journey. It feels like continuing to know him - in a way. It feels like being shown certain things that I am needed to see. Meeting Mike, and moving to Ohio would become another important part of that. Here I am, learning how to parent with a child halfway grown already - just as my dad was.
Every day along this new journey, I see more of my him. I learn more about the sacrifices me made for me. And I understand more deeply everything he tried to do for me.
Maybe it’s been leading up to this day, his birthday. Maybe it’s just been a natural shift going on with growing into a parenting role. Either way, he's been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve even had several dreams of him lately - which is extremely rare. And even more significant, they are the very first beautiful, joyful dreams I have ever had of him. The first dreams that have been filled only with love and joyfulness. The first dreams where he seemed healed, and happy, and peaceful. The most recent one, was a dream in which he was meeting Shelby for the first time, and they had this beautiful, tender, playful moment together. I am still radiating a week later from the beauty of that dream.
It has taken 8 years to get to the good dreams. To get past dreams that were replays of his addiction, depression, and death. I’m not even sure what’s happened internally for that to come about, but I’m filled with so much gratitude for it. This new connection to him that I’ve started to have lately has so surprised me, and reminded me yet again, that we can continue to know our loved ones more and more deeply even after they are gone from this world. That sometimes life will surprise us with things that will teach us so much more about them and make us feel even closer to them than we were before.
It's crazy to think that none of this would have ever happened if Drew hadn’t died. I would have never been sent on this whole other journey of knowing and connecting to my father this way had I never experienced some of the same pain as he did. It’s an odd thing to feel gratitude for the pain, but getting to know my dad in this way absolutely makes me feel just that. Happy Birthday Dad, and thank you for the gifts.