My Father Lives On
June 10, 2014 Kristance Harlow
All of us have unique relationships with our parents. My mother is one of my best friends. She’s my mentor, my rock, and she knows me better than anyone in the world. I called her the other day and admitted, “I feel homesick.” Her immediate response was, “I already knew that as soon as you called.” I’m grateful for my fantastic relationship with my mom. It’s good to know I still have a parent in this world, a loving parent, who even though I’m 27 still will get all “mama bear” when she feels I’m being trifled with. It’s good to know, but it doesn’t help with the grief of losing my father. Maybe it’s because it’s nearly Father’s Day, talking with my sister and my mom they are feeling those pangs of loss again too. I imagine Father’s Day is a hard day for anyone who misses their dad. From the United States to Great Britain to Argentina, Father’s Day happens on the same day for everyone. I can’t escape it.
Every year I come to accept truths behind age old adages. Time really does heal many wounds, or at least transforms them from gaping wounds to sutured scars. I’ve said it before and I’m going to say it again, don’t be ashamed of your hardships because they are the battle scars that hold you together. That doesn’t mean they will never hurt again, like a bad knee on a rainy day an old injury can lay you up for a while. The loss of a parent is a lot like that. Some days I will wake up and although I have detected nothing distinctly different about that day, I can’t shake the sorrow. Whether with my family or thousands of miles away, this scenario will play out time and time again. If I can, I will force myself from under my covers. Peeling away the sheets seems to take all morning, I’m afraid of what’s underneath in the bright light of day.
What is it about a sad song on a bad day that can throw me down a deep dark hole? Where I just want to curl up in bed and turn a blind eye to life and all my responsibilities. To live, it is not possible to just let those emotions take over all the time. That doesn’t mean you should stay covered up and pretend they aren’t there. The longer you deny your own feelings, the more intense the explosion when they finally come into the light. Dealing with grief does not have a one-size fits all formula that makes it easier to deal with, but I know being honest about your feelings can ease the pain. Sometimes it is perfectly acceptable to accept that you are feeling something deep and dark. Sometimes you need to take some time to sit with it. To breathe it in. To remember.
I think about regret a lot. I don’t believe regret is a helpful emotion, but that doesn’t stop me from going there. Especially when I think about my dad. I spent so much time feeling nostalgic, I regret losing “in the moment” experiences with my dad. I am striving to learn how to be more present, I have also come to accept that I am a person who believes lives are strung together through our memories. If you have a best friend, a partner, or a parent, you only know who they are because you remember them. When you are not in someone’s presence, they exist to you because you have memories of who they are. I write about memories, I have kept a journal since I was a child and today I am building a career based on recounting my life experiences. My memories.
Remembering has been my saving grace in dealing with my grief. When my dad passed it was like a nightmare, as I’m sure anyone who has dealt with a loss can attest to. I wanted to create a video memorial to him. I was so intense in working on this video that at the time my sister was very concerned and told me, “You need to slow down and calm down. I am afraid you are the way to a nervous breakdown.” My brother knew how important it was to me and advised that I just take a break and get some sleep. A “good” night’s rest during the period between my dad’s death and his service was a generous five hours. I didn’t care, I had to make that video. Memories are what keep people alive and since I have always understood my life through nostalgia, looking back at it all now, I realize that I needed to share those memories.
My childhood was narrated by my father. My dad bought a video camera in 1994. It was one of those old cameras with a movable eye piece and needed a compact VHS-C to hold onto the memories. To watch what we recorded you had to put the 1982-era “compact” VHS into a special battery powered contraption that would turn it into a full sized one that could be watched in a VCR. Over time those tapes got worn away and a few have been lost to over-usage. Most, however, have been spared time’s wrath and have even been digitized. I have a few on my computer and I watch them from time to time.
My dad is almost always behind the camera during those early years, directing the viewer’s attention. Shortly after I turned nine, my dad videotaped a soccer game that I played in, “There’s Kristance, she’s playing defense down at the far end. This is quite the teeeeam.” As I stand still and shift from one foot to the other. Dad continues, “Now I shoot to the action.” Where a few kids are wildly kicking at the ball, but no one seems to be able to move it. It doesn’t deter Dad’s narrative skills, “Here the ball comes down to her end. Very apprehensive, quickly move. She’s ready!” The ball slowly rolls past my aimless kick and I turn a few seconds too late to run after it. Behind the camera Dad tells the viewers, enthusiastically and seriously, “Nice move!”
Nostalgia is one of the hardest things I’ve had to learn to deal with in my life. Even when I was a child, I longed to be a younger child. When I was nine, back in my soccer playing days, I had one of those elementary-school-boyfriends. Meaning there was certainly no hand holding or hugging or even very much conversation. It was all about the label. I broke up with my fourth-grade boyfriend because I became overwhelmed with emotional nostalgia. I may have been a kid, but I wanted to be a little kid. It was a strange feeling to have as a child, and it’s a feeling I’ve been struggling to understand ever since. All I know is that I have always wanted to go home, but I have never known where home was. I feel torn between many worlds, which is how I’ve felt most of my life since moving from Oregon to Vermont when I was 13. I have left pieces of my heart in the far flung corners of the earth. Only now do I realize that home isn’t just one place. Home can be found in the most unlikely of places, sometimes it’s a memory and sometimes it’s just a good hug.
He made everything comfortable and lightened the mood all the time with his perfect comedic timing. His love was completely unconditional and he gave everything of himself in an attempt to better the lives of his children and wife. I’ll always remember his excitement for the little things in life. A good barbecue with the family, an early morning fishing trip, or a night clear enough to see all the stars in the sky. He would catch a fish and hook it so well that he could walk upstream to hand the pole over to one of us kids, just so he could see us reel it in. Often being completely serious, he would sit me down at the computer and make me read something that he said was very important but ended up being a ridiculously hilarious article or video.
I might not be able to get up the energy to join my boyfriend and his family for their Father’s Day celebration this year and I might still steer clear of holiday displays this time of year, but I will be marking the day in my own way, by remembering. I know I’ll never be able to emulate my father’s best qualities, but I can honor them and I can share them. Lastly, I can continue to strive and do the only thing he ever asked of me: be happy.
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