Today is the 7 year anniversary of my father’s death.
It’s strange because I feel like he just died, yet my memory of him is fading and there are things I can no longer see clearly in my mind. The way he sipped his black coffee loudly, almost like a slurp that might annoy me had it been coming from anyone else. Or did he really even do that? Maybe it wasn’t really loud at all? I know he liked his coffee black, but it’s the noise I’m not so sure of anymore.
This week Janey brought home a permission slip for an upcoming field trip to the Sailing Club in Nawiliwili. She moaned and groaned about not wanting to go and asked if she could please skip it, it sounds so boring. “But Grandpa loved sailing,” I wanted to tell her, thinking it might change her mind. The thought of him down at the harbor tinkering with his old green sailboat warmed my heart. But as quickly as my mind filled with thoughts of my dad and his sailboat, I began to panic. What year was it? 2003? No, it couldn’t have been. What ever happened to that boat? How do I not remember? Was it even green?
I can’t help but feel like a failure when it comes to properly grieving my dad. Nobody showed me what to do, and I just know I’m doing it all wrong. I think I’m fine and have accepted his absence in my life and then I get a phone call from my uncle (his brother) and the sound of his voice, eerily similar to my dad’s, brings me to my knees.
Last month we opened our fourth Kalapaki Joe’s restaurant here in Kauai and my husband had been using my dad’s tools to build some shelving for the restaurant. The tools were strewn about the garage for several days after the project was complete and every day I came home to the tools still on the garage floor felt like a giant slap to my dad’s memory. In my husband’s defense, he was very busy opening a restaurant and dealing with the demands of three others. And, as I later found out, he was keeping the tools out in case he needed to adjust the shelving unit they had just built.
My irrational self let my feelings of grief overcome me and I couldn’t understand how my husband could be so heartless and cold and disrespectful to my dad’s tools. When I couldn’t take it any longer, I blew up at him in anger. “These are all I have left of my father,” I screamed at him through streaming tears.
“These tools were used to build all of our restaurants,” my husband had said calmly. “Did it ever occur to you that your dad might be proud of us and our accomplishments? And that his tools helped build this company that provides for our family?”
It was true. My dad was a very generous and loving man. He would have offered his tools and his help without a second thought.
I realized it’s not about my dad’s tools at all. It’s about me and the relationship I had with him, and the memories that are fading with each day that passes. Instead of feeling like I got gypped, I need to be grateful for the time I had with him. I need to savor the memories that I have instead of wishing there were more.
Julia and Kauai’s Na Pali Coast, September 2010.
This week my dear friend Julia lost her older brother to a stroke. I feel like I should know what to say and do to console her. But I don’t.
Julia is no stranger to grief. Already we shared a special bond in that both our fathers died in the month of January, but she has the added suffering of also losing her brother in January. Since becoming friends we have silently acknowledged each other’s pain while trying to be cheerful about the other January happenings (new year’s celebrations, my birthday, Julia’s husband Donald’s birthday). We both quietly sigh with relief as the month ends and we can finally move forward with the year.
Now she has one more death to add to her dreaded January memorial. And my heart breaks for her.
Julia and I in Paris, October 2012.
I’m not sure I’ll ever understand the grieving process, nor will I understand death.
But I do know that I miss my dad very much. And I am grateful for the time I have with the people that I love. And I’m working hard on being present in every moment so I never again have to wonder if the sailboat was really green. I will know for sure that it was.
Dad from Erika Valente on Vimeo.