A decade ago, my mother sat us down and said she had signed a DNI.
A decade ago, I rushed to the hospital to ask my dad if it was true only to find him semi unconscious and untouched by my presence.
A decade ago, I paced the halls of an oncology ward, listen to “Life Ain’t Always Beautiful” by Gary Allen at 2 o’clock in the morning.
A decade ago, I watched as so many friends, family, and loved ones came to say good bye to the greatest man they’ve ever known.
A decade ago, I also said good bye to this legend.
A decade later, I can’t believe it’s been a decade.
There is something so jarring about memories that are permanently engraved in your brain. Like an etch-a-sketch that can’t be shaken away, no amount of sunsets, alcoholic beverages, or therapy can remove that 24 hours from my mind.
I was twenty two and I thought I knew everything. I had just graduated from college. I was moving to Lexington, Kentucky to pursue my dreams. I was moving in with my first boyfriend. I was an adult. I had fully grown.
Only I hadn’t.
Because like all dark days, there is a pre- and a post. They are jarring. They are scarring. And they will forever change you.
The minute I walked out of that hospital, I was a different person than the girl who had walked in.
I was less reactive. I had already seen the worst, so what else was there to see?
I was more protective. I understood what a loss that you could never regain meant. This wasn’t a break up or a move across state lines. I would never see him again. Indefinitely.
I was sedate. I know this sounds strange, but it felt as though quick sand had risen up to my chest. I can remember calmly driving the hour and a half home. I can remember stoically shopping for the dress I would wear to the funeral. I can remember calmly facing my first love at the calling hours and telling him that this wasn’t the place to speak. And I can remember calmly walking to that pew and giving my first eulogy.
I know what my high school friends were wearing. I can remember the grimace on my grandmothers face. I can taste the Twizzler that my brother handed me before the service and the Miller Lite my sister handed me after.
But maybe that’s what brings light to the dark days, and why those memories are so thoroughly etched into my brain; forever nonerasable.
Because the first few dark days were truly dark. The first few September 5th’s were so bleak. But then like cracks in the shield, lightness slowly seeped in.
I stopped thinking of everything as B.D. and A.D.
Before Dad and After Dad.
I stopped envisioning the disease and started remembering the man.
And I stopped allowing myself to be labelled as damaged goods. I wasn’t just the girl who lost her father. I was the farm manager. The equestrian. The scientist. The girlfriend. The fiancé. The friend.
And with those realizations, I started to see the glimmer of hope.
In 10 years, so much as changed. My siblings have both married amazing people and I am engaged to a third – none of which my dad had the privilege to meet, but both of which his best friends thoroughly interrogated.
All three of us have finished our graduate degrees. My sister as an orthopedic surgeon, my brother as an attorney, and me with a doctorate. He didn’t get to go to a single graduation, but my mother and aunt cheered loudly enough for him.
Because B.D. was such an amazing time, it set the bar high for A.D. But we retaliated. We took those cards and played the best hand we possibly could.
But it’s been a decade. Ten years. 3,650 days. 5,256,000 minutes.
I can remember his face but I can’t remember his voice.
I can envision his words of criticism and confidence, but I don’t remember his phone number.
And yet without thinking, I still try to hit send on my contact list, a decade later.
I have now spent almost half of my life without my father in comparison to what i got. I have conquered so many goals, and yet lost so many battles. I have paved paths and wandered aimlessly. I have hit the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows.
With him, we had one hell of a family. A decade later, without him, we still do.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is that a decade later, I still love him. There is no past tense to that declaration. But a decade later, I am so much stronger. So much better. So much braver. And none of that would be true if a decade ago I hadn’t faced the worst 24 hours of my life.
So on this dark day, that is what I think of. How bad it was. How hard it was. How breathtaking it was. How excruciating it was.
And yet, how much it changed me. How much it molded me. How much it strengthened me. And how much it defined the next ten years.
Twenty two years of preparation with him, and ten years of a gauntlet after. Sink or swim, they say. Do or die.
Well, we did, Dad. We treaded water for a while, but then we swam. It only took a decade. But we’re here. Head above the surf.
And that’s surely something to be proud of. To be amazed by. And for that, we thank you.
I love you Dad. 10 to 2.