We lost my dad to a massive heart attack when I was 22. It was July, 2011. One minute he was here, it was 4th of July weekend, we were in KY at my Grandpa’s for our traditional celebration filled with music, corn-hole, drinks, swimming, fireworks, etc. The next, he was just gone. No warning, just gone. It was an extremely hard thing to deal with for my family and me. I wasn’t a wife or a mother when it happened, so my husband and kids don’t know the version of me that had a dad. They won’t ever know how smart he was, how much fun and life he could bring to a room, how sensitive he could be, and also how downright funny he was!
The other day, I found myself talking about him to my kids due to it having been Father’s Day weekend. I casually mentioned something about my childhood and my oldest said, “Oh, so you and Grandma Kim and Grandpa Joel did that together?”. I had to explain that, no, Grandpa Joel isn’t my dad, he’s with Grandma Kim now, but he isn’t the man who raised me. My dad’s name was Chip, and he died before I was your mom.
It’s strange to try and explain that, especially to my younger daughter who’s 3. It’s also strange how much things really stick in their sponge-like minds. She was talking about her grandpa “who died” hours later after I had mentioned him for a total of like 5 minutes, totally confusing my in-laws who we saw later that day. They know my dad is gone, but they’re not used to hearing about it, especially in fragmented 3-year-old language.
All that night, when I was up with the baby, I found myself coming back to this over and over. How can I keep my dad’s memory alive so that my kids can feel some shred of closeness to him? How can I portray him and include him in our everyday life so that they can try and formulate some sort of “memory” of him through me?
I haven’t quite figured out the answer to this yet, but what I do know is that I want to and have been trying to speak about him more often. I try to reference things he loved to do, little things he used to say to me growing up, pointing out his favorite song or TV show. I have a goal of not letting him just be some far away, unfamiliar thing that we don’t talk about very much. I want them to come with me to visit his grave, but also, I want to try and incorporate his personality through lots of sharing and explanation. I want to be doing something on a weekend and have one of my kids notice something they’ve been taught coincides with my dad and for them to be able to say, “Hey, that’s Grandpa Chip’s favorite!”. That would really make my heart happy.
To all you guys out there who have lost a parent or parents:
What kinds of things do you do to keep their spirit alive in your children? It’s easy to make them not being here what’s normal, and that makes me sadder than actually talking about him and the great man he was. Please share, it would mean a lot to me!