11 Months

Sugarbeet placing a golf ball at my dad's grave on Father's Day, 2017.
When I wrote my recap of 2016, I shared how 2016 will always be a year of both/and, of joy and sorrow. One of the joys was that, despite my dad's death in August, it will always be the year that he was last on this earth and so a year of joy because of the moments spent together.

As August 18 creeps ever closer, one month from today, I find myself realizing that the ability to say 'last year, dad and I..." or to look at the calendar and remember a day shared with my dad just one year ago is something I'll never experience again. That no longer will he be as close as 'a year ago'. That time will move forward and he will forever move farther away from this life. As Memorial Day approached, the anniversary of Dad entering the hospital due to inability to feel his feet because of tumors pressing on his spine...only to not leave the hospital/rehab again until his last trip home to say goodbye.

It catches my breath when I think of all he has missed this year, and all he will miss in the years to come. And of course, he hasn't really missed it, but rather I have missed the experience of sharing in this earthly life with him.  And it is in this realization that while he moves farther away from this life, I move closer to seeing him again.

Before Dad died, I never really understood why people visited cemeteries, nor exactly what one should do when visiting. In the last year, though, I have found myself drawn there. Most often on the 18th of the month, and for holidays or other special days. And, as so many times before, I have found so much comfort in the treasury of prayers offered to us by the Catholic Church. Whether it is a simple recitation of the St. Michael prayer, an offering of our family litany of saints, or the rite of prayers prayed for the dead when visiting a cemetery. I take such comfort in the prayers and am reminded that while I do not know if he is in heaven or purgatory, dad and I can continue to pray for one another. The relationship doesn't end with death.

Last year at this time, I was preparing for our annual beach trip. Dad had little to no appetite and was moved from a rehab facility to a nursing home where he could focus on healing and receive some therapy. Looking back, and having more knowledge of end stage cancer, I see that his body was losing its fight. I think I'm glad I didn't know then what I know now. Yes, I was worried upon leaving for vacation, but I didn't really think we only had a month left. And when we got back, Sugarbeet and I took the laptop along with us for our visit and he enjoyed seeing the photos of her first trip to the beach. He was so proud of her willingness to play in the waves and loved her enthusiasm for miniature golf. So many of my best beach memories growing up are with my dad - sand castle building, ocean wave jumping, raft wave riding, mini golf playing, and roller coaster riding. I only hope that Sugarbeet remembers these vacations with as much joy as I remember my childhood beach vacations.

And so, this week, this year, once again I am packing for the beach. Only this year, I know that when I come back I will be facing August 18. This year, I'll know what that date will mean to me, for the rest of my life. And on August 19, no longer will there be 'last year with Dad'. Yes, everyone says the 'firsts' are hard and just making it through them is important. Somehow though, it seems that instead of things getting easier, as time moves on further away from 2016, they get harder.

As this year of firsts comes to a close, I will cling to those moments of peace and hope I had as Dad passed from this life to the next. I will continue to offer prayers for his soul and ask him to pray for me, for that is how our relationship remains in this present time.

Almighty God and Father, it is our certain faith that  your Son, who died on the cross, was raised from the dead, the first fruits of all who have fallen asleep.
Grant that through this mystery your servant, Michael, who has gone to his rest in Christ, may share in the joy of his resurrection.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. 
(Closing prayer from "Order for visiting a Cemetery")