Holidays are the hardest, people say, especially the first holidays after the death of a family member. Even though I hadn’t spent a Thanksgiving with my Dad in 25 years, I still feel an extra pang of loneliness today. I recall how he loved the big turkey dinners my Grandmother prepared, how he and I would watch the Hudson’s parade together on Thanksgiving morning and what a treat it was to have him home in the daytime instead of working.
Gratitude is often felt but rarely expressed. There were so many things I appreciated about my father – his generosity, his unwavering support for everything I did (even when he had misgivings about it), they way he encouraged my interests in music and reading and writing, his unfailing good humor and playfulness that never faltered even after long hours of work. I learned a lot about being a parent from him – about having patience and letting your children follow their desires and make their own decisions. But, as often happens, I let the opportunity to thank him for those things pass me by.
As adults, we can look back at our parents’ lives and learn from them in entirely different ways. I am now approaching the age my father was when he and my mother got divorced and he started his “second act.” From my current vantage point, and I can see his reasoning a lot more clearly than I could when I was 30. Cliched as it is, I can see how he was longing for something new and exciting, how he felt as if life would soon pass him by and he needed to make the most of it. I can see the warning signs that he chose to ignore and instead speed through on the way to his exciting new beginning. I am grateful for that insight, even though it came at the price of our family.
There were years when we were at odds with one another, my Dad and I, years we lost touch completely. I am grateful, especially today, for the grace which led us to reestablish our relationship. Grateful for the times we spent together in the past few years – for the day he spent teaching me to play poker, for the time he talked for hours telling me stories about his youth that I’d never heard before. I’m proud of the way he fought to live, with a strength and determination that amazed all his doctors.
Because he died very suddenly, I didn’t have an opportunity to express my gratitude or say a real goodbye. I say it now, hoping somehow he listens, somehow he might know.
I am grateful.