“He elected to do inpatient rehab for 8 weeks because he wanted to walk my sister down the aisle in September. I was too little to remember the beginning, so I rely on stories of my parents’ courtship. They married on October 16, 1982. My sister was just 3-years-old and it was two weeks before my second birthday. The moment he met us, he was in love. To him, we were his daughters, not his step-daughters.
The adoption process started very early into their marriage. Growing up, most everyone outside our family didn’t know we were adopted because it was irrelevant. We were family by love and that’s all that mattered. My dad always told us we were more, not less special because he got to choose us to be his daughters.
My dad was born and raised in Kermit, West Virginia. His southern hospitality was part of his identity. He was kind and generous and never knew a stranger. When visitors entered our home, he didn’t ask them if they wanted something to drink, he handed them something to drink. I recall being embarrassed as a teenager because he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He frequently opened our home to family and friends whether it was a visit or temporary displacement. When I was very young, my teenage cousin lived with us for a few years due to issues at home. To prevent him from changing high schools, my parents opened their home to him. My dad even bought him an old clunker and fixed it up so he would have his own transportation.
Dad was old fashioned and hardworking. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, while he was the financial provider for our family of five. During a two-year layoff, he worked odd jobs to make ends meet. He even hunted to make sure there was food on the table. In thirty-five years, he only missed a half day of work.
His family was his life. That wasn’t limited to his immediate family; it was a broad term for him. Friends and family were one in the same. We’d make 10 and 14-hour road trips maybe half a dozen times a year to see extended family. We’d leave right after school on Friday afternoons and be back home on Sundays. He had a soft spot for children, babies in particular.
Dad’s love language was acts of service, but on rare occasions he’d spoil us with girly presents like flowers and jewelry. For my tenth birthday, he bought me my first diamond ring. Growing up, my mom did all the Christmas shopping, but Valentine’s Day was his Christmas. He’d go out by himself and buy cards, candy, stuffed animals, and flowers. He’d bawk anytime my mom tried to help him. Our Valentine’s would be waiting by our dinner plate every year. If you were out of town, your Valentine was waiting for your return.
Dad’s battle with heart disease began in April of 1999, my senior year of high school. He started experiencing shortness of breath and heart arrhythmias. A heart catherization indicated he had 3 significant blockages and needed a quadruple heart bypass. He had never really been sick and was stubborn as a mule. He was the worst patient there ever was. Keeping him down to recuperate was nearly impossible.
I’ll never forget the phone call that changed his world. I was 19 and living 10 hours from home. ‘Mom, Dad, you’re going to be grandparents.’ I was terrified to disappoint him, but he offered nothing but love and support. His Little Man, Owen, made his arrival on December 26, 2000.
I could write a book about their relationship because it was so unique. Their bond was as mysterious as that of twins. They understood each other on a level nobody else could. My dad always told me I had given birth to his best friend, as he called him. When Owen could talk, he affectionately referred to him as Pap. Dad thanked me over and over throughout the years for finally giving him his boy. I am forever indebted to him for giving my son so much love.
As the years passed and his family continued to grow, dad faced more and more health challenges. There were several heart stents for additional blockages. He faced a grueling and massive stroke in March of 2004. He elected to do inpatient rehab for 8 weeks because he wanted to walk my sister down the aisle in September.
My (now) ex-husband took the call on December 6, 2015. ‘Boys, go to your rooms. I need to talk to mom.’ I knew the look, anguish, though I’d never seen it on his face. ‘Bam, that was your sister. Your dad has passed away. Your mom found him in the driveway in front of the garage. He had been out messing around in the yard.’ I crumbled. I know I asked for the specifics, but I can’t recall the conversation. Telling the boys, particularly Owen, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
The week was a blur. People, hugs, tears, words, food. When dad was finally laid in the ground, Owen threw the first few shovels of dirt onto his Pap. Unbeknownst to Owen, that was what his Pap always did for his lost loved ones. He made his Pap proud that day.
We just celebrated dad’s 80th birthday. This year, in lieu of a DQ ice cream cake, I chose to make one of his favorite cakes. We Facetimed with the family and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to Pap.
Dad was always insecure about his writing. He couldn’t spell to save his life and his penmanship was lacking, but he was the most sentimental person I’ve ever known. He wrote on everything. Scribbles of memories, notes, pictures, newspaper clippings. You name it. It’s strange how you find comfort in trivial things, such as handwriting, when someone is gone. I had the inscription on my last Valentine’s Day card tattooed on my arm on his first birthday since his passing. It has been therapeutic for me to see his handwriting every day. It gives me comfort and encouragement. You could say it’s perfectly imperfect.
Nobody can prepare you for grief. It’s personal. It sneaks up on you. There’s no time limit. For me it was private. I secluded myself. I find comfort seeing my dad in my children. I find comfort seeing my dad in me. I’m just over three years in. I’m on the other side of my grief mountain. I’ve found love after divorce. I’ve found peace with where I am knowing he is always with me.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Bambi Hodge of Mount Pleasant, Michigan. You can follow her journey on Facebook here. Do you have a similar experience? Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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