Gratitude For My Dad’s Life

My dad died 7 years ago today. What I wrote three years ago still stands — gosh, he would have enjoyed the hell out of his grandkids, who they are and who they’re becoming. I imagine he’d sit around the kitchen table with Pete, talking about the ins and outs of the casino business, and Kelly pulling him out on politics and the past.

And, at the same time, life moves on. The grief ages and distills and, strangely enough, it brings forth life. Eventually, the pain recedes into an ache and an appreciation for how precious and fragile our lives are.

What I’ve found is, loss deepens. I can drown in its depths. But when I stand with it and in it, I can — like a submarine, lights on in the Marianas Trench — see things I never would have on life’s sunnier surface.

I am so grateful for my dad’s life and, this is the harder part, for his death. His passing and the past 7 years have taught me things about the world and myself that I never would have learned any other way. These are not all happy lessons.

It has taught me that time has its limits, and called me to attend to the moment. It has schooled me in loving through differences, and how those differences recede with absence. It has made me nostalgic. It has driven home to me, like a punch in the gut, that we are sharks, that we need to move to live, and my dad’s ghost flushes me out of the house and on to the bike or the court when my spirit says relax. My dad’s life and death remind me that we live in our shared stories.

At his funeral, I walked around and spoke to his friends and our family and kept asking, “Tell me a story about my dad.”

I heard so many. The one that made me laugh the hardest was one from his work colleagues. They had all been at a conference in Puerto Rico and were at a celebratory dinner. The appetizers were awful and slow in coming. As they were sitting in mild dread about what would arrive next and when, there was a small commotion.

“These guys came into the dining room,” one old friend told me, “carrying several bags. And Tommy called them over. It was Chinese food! Tommy had gotten up earlier, I thought he went to the bar, but he ordered Chinese for the table! Oh, he was the best!”

Finally, I learned that suffering and loss are a price we pay for living. My dad was the best — and a thousand other things. Every year for six years now, I’ve stopped on this day and tried to hold all 1,001 things close to my heart, and sink in those waters, knowing I could drown but I will not, buoyed by the stories and love and lessons of his life, of my life, of this great living chorus.


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