I still remember the phone call.
Nearly five years ago. A Monday night. I was sitting on my living room floor watching TV and painting my nails.
My phone rang. It was my mom. She nonchalantly asked me if I had heard about my dad…”Big Paul.” I told her no.
She simply said, “He died.”
The next couple of weeks leading up to his funeral are still a bit of a blur. There were trips to the funeral home, social security administration, the VA.
Picking up his things from the group home where he lived. Dropping off a suit for him to be buried in.
My brother and I sat and answered questions about a man we barely knew. The fields of his death certificate populated with our best guesses. When WAS his birthday? What DID he do for a living?
My dad was in and out of my life early on. The later – just out. He was an alcoholic. A fact that now leads my mom to worry when she thinks I’m drinking too much wine.
My dad and I had just reconnected through email six days before he died. For the first time I read that he loved me – in his own words. For the first time he saw photos of my children.
He emailed me that day. Early in the afternoon. I didn’t reply immediately because I was busy and decided I’d do it later.
Shortly after hitting send, he took a nap and never woke up.
I felt guilty. If only I would have reached out sooner. If only I had called when he gave me his number. If only I had responded to that email…
I could’ve said goodbye.
I already knew life was fragile, but still, I had never lost someone so suddenly. Someone who I had heard from just hours before.
My father was not the greatest, but he was mine nonetheless.
I bear many of his features; I carried his name.
The man I saw laying in that green suit in that copper-colored casket was not someone I recognized. A decade will do that, I suppose.
He looked…grandfatherly. Ironic, seeing as how this was my children’s first and last time seeing him. Their grandfather.
My dad didn’t teach me much in the time that he was here. Not how to count or tie my shoes. Not what I should look for in a husband, or how I should be treated by men.
But there were lessons in his death.
I learned to love and cherish those that are here with me WHILE they are here with me.
I learned to fix repairable divides before you only have six days left in this life.
I learned to live everyday as if your next nap could be your last.
And that forgiveness is more for you than the person that wronged you.
Life is fleeting; it won’t wait for you. So make the most of it while you’re here.