‘His dying wish was to be home. I never got to thank him for drying my tears when I was broken inside as a victim of bullying.’

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“When my father made his last trip home through hospice we needed to move the furniture in my parents’ home office to make space for him. The large bed with the side railings was too big to make it to my parent’s second floor bedroom. His dying wish was to be home. I’m assuming he wanted to end his life surrounded by sounds he knew and the people he loved. My father must have wanted a few more days to be submerged in the familiar world he was about to leave forever.

My father was gentle but also masculine and strong. Anyone who knew him would understand this statement perfectly. Before the cancer came and took everything from him and from all of us, he was always the largest personality in any crowd. He cracked the funniest jokes and made the most noise. You either loved everything about him or hated it. But the best part is – he didn’t care. He just was who he was and made no excuses or apologies for it. You never had to guess where you stood with him or how he felt. He was also the first to take the shirt off his back for a complete stranger. Always rooted for the underdog and was a gentle loving father and husband to his three daughters and my mother.

Courtesy of Adrienne Anzelmo

My parents as a unit were so special. Their love could fill a room. Their connection for each other took up the space around them. I have never seen anyone love another human as much as my father loved and adored my mother. An example of their love I remember vividly is their morning routine. Maybe because it was so unwavering Monday through Friday for as long as I could remember. My father would get up while the house was still sleeping and shower and get ready to start his 12-hour work day. My mother would be close behind him quietly descending the squeaky stairs to our kitchen where she would pack full his blue and white grease stained lunch box. They would move effortlessly around the house preparing for the day ahead so quietly so not to wake my sisters and me too early. They would then sit and drink a cup of coffee with one another. I can still remember the quite whispers of their conversations. Occasionally they would get louder as they chuckled or disagreed, but the conversation always found its way back to its slow quite rhythm. My Dad would wake us girls up right before he left for a quick hello and goodbye. He would place his coffee cup in the kitchen sink, the light brown colored liquid slightly skimming the bottom of the mug. He would kiss my mother before climbing up into his big truck and wave as he pulled away.

Courtesy of Adrienne Anzelmo

Of course there was more to my father than his love for my Mom. When I think back to the memories of my father 20 years after his death the first thing that stands out is his dry callused hands. The slight hop and whistle in his step and the way his pants would slightly hang down in the back. When I close my eyes I can hear the sound of him pushing the lawn mower, waking me up to late on a Sunday. I can still see him pushing the cart down the grocery store aisle not the least bit ashamed to have my doll strapped in the very front seat as I walked several steps behind him. I can still remember him as the first base coach wearing the brightest, loudest shirt, telling me to keep my eye on the ball as I settled into the batter’s box. I can hear him in the band stands screaming ‘go Billerica’ as my friends and I took the field in our marching band competition. Or see the entire top half of his body hanging out of the window as the parent bus drove by on our way to a music competition. I remember him rallying the troops as the infamous chaperone on my field trips in grade school. Pieces of him wrapped in the corners of my mind.

Courtesy of Adrienne Anzelmo

It’s the things I no longer remember that hurt so deeply. Like how feeling safe with him felt. What it feels like to wrap my arms around his neck to hug him. I no longer see his features clearly in the vision of him standing before me. I miss so much the way he would take up space in the doorway of my bedroom, stopping just to see me in those teenage years when I sometimes avoided seeing everyone. I no longer remember the feeling of joy he brought me. It seems most of my memories of him now are covered in a blanket of sadness. Cobwebs of grief growing for 20 years makes my relationship with him feel more like a dream. Loving him feels like a lifetime ago. So much of my life has been lived without him, without a father to love me and to fill the spaces and gaps of missing emotion he left when he died.

I see fathers and their grown daughters out. Sometimes they are having lunch or just walking and laughing. I see grandfathers with their grandchildren and I feel cheated. I never got to walk side by side with my father as an equal, as a friend. He never got to see his hard work pay off as his children all received college diplomas and establish their careers. He never got to watch us grow into adults or buy homes or become wives and mothers. I never got to thank him for drying my tears when I was broken inside as a victim of bullying. Or thank him for his endless sacrifices for our family.

I’m still grieving 20 years after losing my father. Now a majority of the grief is anger for feeling so cheated of my time with him. I am mostly empty now in the space he was once was. My memories are so treasured and special but I have been forced to walk in life without him for so long now that it changed my path completely. I came out stronger and wiser and more resilient than I ever would have had he not left me so soon. But I would trade it all for him to be here. To see him hugging my children, sitting in the stands at their sporting events and falling asleep at their recitals. I would give anything to hear him snoring in his big green chair after a big family Sunday dinner. I would give so much to have him here for my children to climb on and laugh with and learn from.

Courtesy of Adrienne Anzelmo

I tell stories to my children often about their grandfather. Small things mostly, like the love he had for the Boston Bruins and tootsie rolls. When I see qualities in my sisters that remind me of my father I share that with them. I also share how proud he would have been to be a Papa because I know that for certain. I have to settle seeing my father through my child’s wild laughter or my son’s desire to dig deep on the basketball court. In the quick wit of my younger sister and the ability to make the world right in my older sister.

Watching my father die put a light out inside me forever, but also ignited a fire in me. To forge ahead. To appreciate life. To love deeply and fiercely. To be kind. To remember each day is a gift. To be myself and never apologize. To love my partner, love my children, love myself. To be smart and level headed. To make good choices because they will follow me. Yes, my father has been gone 20 years, but he is here. My father was larger than life and now he is larger than death…”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Adrienne Anzelmo of Massachusetts. Submit your story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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