My father passed in 2007, from cancer that he'd been battling for eight years. He was sixty-six - and it was awful. I was a genuine Daddy's Girl, and my father was my hero. He was a good man, a fine, upstanding man, and he loved us well. He was a fireman. We didn't always agree, (he was a lot more conservative and I'm a lot more liberal), but we could argue our views, come to a stalemate, then let it go and move on.
So. Here is a tribute to my dad.
She says, “Mom, I can’t go to sleep because I’m scared.”
I’m more aggravated than sympathetic, because this just has the feel of a ploy to stay up past bedtime. Or at least get me to snuggle in her bed for awhile longer, even though the alarm signaling the end of cuddle-time just went off. “What are you afraid of?”
“Bears and dragons and dinosaurs.”
Well, okay, I’m thinking this is easy enough to fix. “It’s winter time and all the bears are hibernating.”
“Every one of them?” she asks.
“Every one. So there’s no reason to be afraid of bears. And there’s no reason to be afraid of dragons because dragons aren’t real.”
“But dinosaurs are real!” she exclaims.
“Ah, well, dinosaurs used to be real. But dinosaurs are extinct, which means they all died long, long before there were ever people on the earth. God made the dinosaurs first, and then they all died, and maybe God thought people were a better idea.”
“But Mom, how come dinosaurs and people never lived on earth together?”
“Because the dinosaurs would have eaten all the people, and God wanted people to live on the earth for thousands and thousands of years.”
“But Papa didn’t.”
“Didn’t what?” I retrace my words in my head trying to figure out what she’s telling me. It’s funny how we get to know our children so well that we can do that, isn’t it? Like she’ll start telling me a story that started silently in her head a few sentences back, and after a couple more sentences I’ll have caught on to her logic, or realized what movie she’s talking about. We have conversations that would sound so random to a passerby they might think we’re speaking in code.
So after rethinking how I’d just explained God and people and dinosaurs, I figured it out. “No, Papa didn’t live for thousands of years. Maybe God needed Papa more than we did.”
“But we need our Papa!” She’s very definite on this point.
I had no idea my dinosaur explanation would lead to a discussion on why people have to die. But I’ve been expecting these questions, so I’ve had some time to think of answers. And I know my daughter will never settle for just one answer. “I guess we had our turn with Papa and now it’s God’s turn.”
That sounds pretty good – she does a lot of taking turns in preschool.
“Do we get another turn?”
I was doing fairly well until this point, but the answer to this question slays me. I feel that squeezing cringe in my nose and behind my eyes, and here come the sniffles. “No,” I tell her, hardly able to speak, “we don’t.”
“That’s not fair!” she says in her angry, little-girl voice.
I have to agree. It doesn’t feel fair, not one little bit. I’m not talking anymore because trying not to sob out loud. Partly I’m crying for me, and I know that. But mostly I’m crying for her. I have thirty-six years of memories of my father in my head. Thirty-six years of lessons in right and wrong and honesty and dignity and humor and goodness. She only has four. How much will she remember for herself?
And then I think of my nieces and how they got less time with my dad than I did. And my great niece. She lost her great-grandpa who she knew and loved - how do you explain that to a two year old? I cry some more.
And my mom, oh, my mom, who’s lived every marriage vow written. Who’s been strong, and scared, and sad, and hopeful and everything in between. She’s been his nurse and his cheerleader, his sweetheart, and his partner. And here she is, cut loose to find a new life. It surely isn’t fair.
I’m really on a crying roll now.
But then I realize that we’re lucky, in a way. My dad was only one half of a great set of parents. We still have one half of greatness here on earth to love. I feel a little better when I remind myself of that.
Now that my crying jag is under control, I still need to get my daughter to sleep. “Hey,” I tell her, “we’ll get another turn when we see Papa in Heaven, okay? And we’ll see Grandma tomorrow, so that’s all right.”
She was still awake a few minutes later when I was talking to my mom on the phone. One “good-night, sleep tight” from Grandma, and she snuggled right in.