My dad was born on a Thursday.
I know this because he told me his mom once said, “Harold, you only have a birthday every four years when November 28th falls on Thanksgiving, because you were born on Thanksgiving.” He said, “Mom, it doesn’t work that way.” And it didn’t. On November 28, 2013, Dad’s birthday again fell on Thanksgiving. The only problem was, he died a week before that.
Losing the first man I ever loved was the hardest ordeal I’ve ever faced. But when you have two medium-sized kids, you try to be strong. Maybe not strong… I certainly wouldn’t say I’m strong. You try to be somewhat normal. You try to focus on the reality that his suffering had ended, that his body is like it was when he was an active 40- or 50-something. You try to see the Dad we all knew, and still know.
Our family, of course, was wonderful after Dad’s passing. My friends were amazing. Our church and school community helped keep our faith strong. I don’t see how some people lose their faith when they lose a close loved one. Without my faith, I would have evaporated.
Two things especially brought comfort. I was part of a group of ladies in a bereavement group at our church, which focused on acknowledging and expressing grief instead of pushing it away.
Second, I felt relieved that Dad was free from the horrendous war that Parkinson’s Disease waged on his body.
Just after Dad passed away, a friend who had lost her father a couple of years before said the time would come when I wouldn’t remember Dad as sick, in the hospital, hooked up to machines or struggling to walk and eat and speak. Those memories would be replaced with images of him as the healthy guy he was for most of his life. That is definitely starting to happen. My brother says he remembers Dad that way. It’s a blessing.
But I admit, it is hard to see men Dad’s age having fun with their grandchildren. I’m so thankful my kids knew my father and loved him. I just wish they had been allowed to have him longer. I try to talk about him when a memory pops up. Just this week when the weather turned frigid, the Girl’s windshield was frosted over. I remembered Dad’s trick for taking care of that. Her face lit up when I said, “That’s Papa saying, HEY!” So, he lives on in fun, cool ways. Appropriate for a fun, cool Papa.
Most of the time, though, I just can’t believe he is gone. He’s not here to celebrate my new job, or to see the Girl as concertmistress of her orchestra or to hear the Boy sing a solo at church. Or to see them graduate, or get married, or have children.
But if I dwelled on that, I’d go crazy.
Instead, I see the guy with a big, bushy mustache (sometimes a beard) who loved eating his mother-in-law’s desserts, who pinched kids’ noses as a sign of affection and who wore the same red and green plaid shirt every Christmas. He’s the one who slicked his thinning hair straight back instead of combing over, who didn’t smile for a photo unless someone he loved was behind the camera, who let his daughter interview him for a TV story in college… who worked his tail off and sacrificed so I could GO to college.
He’s the one I think of when I try not to get choked up singing this song (based on Isaiah 40:31) at church: “We will run and not grow weary, for our God will be our strength. And we will fly like the eagle. We will rise again.”
Harold W. McClure, HWM, Dad, Papa… is doing all that. And one day, he’ll see me and say, “Hey, Baby,” just like always. And we’ll go have some pound cake.