Today marks twenty years since my father died.
He was forty-three years old and I was fifteen. He has been gone now longer than I knew him. Although it is always sad when I think about it, for some reason having a big milestone like twenty years feels especially poignant.
I have always felt sad for him that his life was cut so short. Who would he have become? What would his interests have been when he didn't have to concentrate on making a living? What kind of grandfather would he have been? It is only now that I am thirty-five do I truly realize how young he was and how much of life he missed.
Of course, I have mostly always been sad for myself. Losing a parent at such a relatively young age leaves a constant, yawning gap in your life. The happiest of occasions have always been marred by his absence. I can't believe he had to miss my high school and college graduations, seeing my first apartment, my wedding and the birth of my first child. I can't believe he will never know any of our spouses or his grandchildren. But mostly, the loss is most acute during day to day things. Whenever I see people with their fathers I am reminded of what I have lost.
Now that I am a parent myself, there is a new dimension to my sadness. I always knew he loved us, but now I know how much. I cannot imagine every having to leave Henry before he was ready for me to go. The thought of leaving him without a mother to love him just tears me apart. I know that when my dad was ill, his greatest fear was not dying but leaving us. He didn't want us not to have a father or ruin our lives.
Although he was ill, his death was unexpected. It gives me some relief that he didn't know he was going to die so he was spared the anguish of leaving us. I have always tried to live my life so that his worst fear did not come true. I have always tried to be happy and make the best of things. Although losing a parent brings a sadness that never goes away, I have tried not to let it define me. I have always thought the greatest tribute to him was to become the person and have the life that he wanted to me to have.