When a friend recently shared that she had lost her father 10 months ago, my tears surged so quickly that my tear ducts ached. After listening quietly, I shared that I had gone through this as well. I could feel a shift, as if she knew she was not just experiencing that uncomfortable pity that we sometimes unintentionally cast on others; she felt my empathy. She suggested that it would get easier over time, but I told her not to hold her breath. That even a decade later, the pain can still be there.
I lost my father 14 years ago to Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), an incurable neuromuscular disease. And even though 14 years may seem like a long time ago, it is only now that I can even bear to write about it. It is true that as time passes, the pain dulls. But the experience of him can come back instantly through simple and unexpected ways; the smell of Old Spice cologne on a passerby, a sudden memory of him sitting in his chair reading the paper, the way he used to laugh so hard that tears would come to his eyes.
If someone famous dies from a rare disease, they may receive the honor, or burden, of having that disease named after them. Although my father had his own rite of fame in the eyes of his friends and family, I am thankful that ALs is not called Bob Anderson disease. ALS is, however, known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, after the famous New York Yankees baseball player whose rapid rise to fame was tragically cut short by ALS. Lou Gehrig and my father had something much more uplifting in common: both of their family’s loved them.
Although we are trained to subdue our emotions and to get over our losses, I think it is healthy to be able to connect with the feeling of loss, wether ten months or twenty years have passed. Such feelings confirm your ability to truly love other human beings, and prove that love is indeed infinite. If I hadn’t cared for my father, perhaps it would be different. But to this day, I believe my father to have been one of the best in the world: kind, patient, humble, great sense of humor, able to give a concise summary of world events, manly enough to say he loved you.
If he were here today, I can only imagine how differently my life might have turned out. I can see him playing with his new grandchildren that have been born since his passing. I can picture him talking with my husband, his hands clasped gently together as he listens. I can imagine him sitting with my mom on the front porch, looking at the play of light and shadow on the mountains in the distance.
Yet I do know that he is here. Over the years I have felt his presence in subtle, scientifically unprovable ways that have provided kindling and flame to my faith in the hereafter. Sometimes when I pray, I picture my father as one of the bearded men up there who may have an ear more keenly turned to my needs. Sometimes those prayers are even answered. So if you think your duties as a father end when your kid turns 18, think again. Once a father, eternally a father.