We lost my dad 30 years ago today, a week before his 35th birthday. I wish I had something beautiful and wise to say about this, but I’m failing. I’m tapped out in this week that’s just too many things, but I can’t let today go without at least putting down some of these rambling thoughts. Proceed with caution.

I was only 7 when he died in a sailing accident, and my brother was 5. That kind of loss was hard at that age. I’d have given anything to protect my kids from that. Instead at 33, the same age my mom was, we had another sudden death in our home and I had to learn to parent through loss, too. Thank God she managed it, and we’re somehow managing, too.

Resource: Children’s Books About Loss and Grief

I miss you, Dad.

I wish I’d had the chance to know him as an adult. I know I’m better for the years we had together, and people still tell me about what a kind man he was, all these years later. I knew it as a child, but I love hearing it from people who knew him differently than I did. I take my kids to the water and listen to The Beatles with them. He’s here.

A week before he died he told a friend at work he was the happiest he’d ever been. He had everything he wanted. A couple years earlier we were still living in Guelph and he was working a high-stress job. He came home one day and told my mom that if he stayed there he wouldn’t see 40.

“Let’s go.”

They sold the house and we moved to Port Elgin three weeks later, in time for me to start grade one at a new school. They found jobs and made it work because it was important, and life is too short to be somewhere that makes you miserable. I’ve carried that lesson with me and it has served me well.

Two and a half years ago I grew older than my dad. I’d always looked ahead to that birthday and wondered how it would feel. I didn’t anticipate I’d be completely knocked off my own feet a year and a half earlier with the loss of my child, but I always, always knew that life could be unpredictably short, and stretched every opportunity as far as it would take me, wanting to feel I’d done the best I could with the time I had whenever it was up. At two weeks before my 35th birthday I wasn’t the happiest I’d ever been, but at 33 1/2 I was and it was wonderful. I’m glad he had that.

I can’t begin to fathom what our lives would have been like if he’d lived that day. Our world changed dramatically in an instant. I used to wonder a lot about where I’d have ended up if things hadn’t become so hard and we still had him here. There isn’t much point in that. The years went by and I made it through to where I’ve ended up now, and I know that’s because of the lessons I learned from both my mom and dad.

My dad who was so gentle and kind, and willing to jump when it was important, and appreciated the things that mattered most.

My mom who has always been so strong and resilient, ready to laugh and give everyone a big hug, and somehow able to come back from everything life has thrown at her. I’ve always known I could get back up again when I fall down because I’ve seen her do it throughout my life. I don’t know how she still laughs so much. I’m so grateful to have inherited that from her.

I wish my kids didn’t learn the pain of loss so early in their lives. There’s nothing fair or okay about it, and it’ll never be okay that Jude had little more than two years with us. We have some peace knowing those two+ years were so special. We packed a lot of living into his little life. I don’t know that we’d have done that if we weren’t already in the habit. We spent a lot of time out for walks, going to the zoo and the beach, traveling, and enjoying each other. We got knocked down when he died, then eventually found ways to find laughter and adventure again.

We’re living in very uncertain times right now. That’s hard for everyone, and harder for some than others. Please take care of yourself and everyone around you. None of us knows how long we have here, but for too many of us it’s just not long enough. We must use this time to protect as many lives as possible, and to think about what’s going to be most important to us when we’ve found our way out of the pandemic. Let’s make choices we can feel good about when this is over. Life is short. Hold on tight to your loved ones (from a distance until it’s safe again), find extra kindness for yourself and everyone around you, and take advantage of your time here. Make it count. Maybe 30 years later people will still be sending messages to your loved ones about what made you so special.

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