“When my dad suddenly died there was a lot of things that needed to be dealt with. My biggest priority was our family’s salvage business, and frankly it was really the only thing I could dedicate time and energy to, which meant a lot of things fell to other people. My childhood home was one of the things that I just couldn’t handle sorting through, and my best friend since third grade stepped up to help. She packed up all of my dad’s clothes, furniture and assorted other items, and for the last 6 years, the boxes have sat in a storage unit. I always had good intentions to deal with it but I just couldn’t bring myself to go through my dad’s stuff. Even more, how to figure out what was worth keeping and what wasn’t. I kept making excuses as to why I couldn’t – I was too busy, I didn’t have the space, or the weather was bad. The truth of it is, I just didn’t want to throw away my dad’s belongings. It was just one more reminder that he was gone and never coming back.
My father was murdered. None of us saw it coming, because things like this don’t happen to my family. My dad tried to intervene in a bar fight and was struck over the head repeatedly with a pool cue. He was transported to the hospital but was pronounced dead after arrival. My dad was one of those people who made the world brighter and people flocked to him. I’m still in shock over his death and miss him every single day. Sometimes when I can’t sleep I have this fantasy where he isn’t really dead. He faked his death and is on an island somewhere fishing, living under an assumed name and one day he will come home. Obviously that is ridiculous, but the idea of a world without him is still so traumatic that it’s easier to pretend. Getting rid of things like his underwear made it more real, and I wasn’t ready.
In February of this year I added up how much I have spent on the unit and I came to the conclusion that it was time to handle it. I couldn’t keep spending money on something as silly as a fantasy. I took my card off of autopay thinking my laziness would win out because without autopay, I had to physically go there every month to pay. But even then, I couldn’t do it. Fast forward to last month when it became very clear that my sweet toddler Sawyer was ready for an upgrade from a toddler bed to a real bed. I knew exactly which bed I would use – my antique twin bed from my childhood. I’ve always been a bit of an odd ball and I vividly remember being 5 years old tracing the carvings on the bed thinking that one day my child would also sleep in the same spot I laid my head. When I upgraded to my double bed my sister got the twin and then a few years later my brother slept in it. It’s not just a bed – it’s my family’s history. It even has paint on it from when my brother knocked over a gallon of purple paint and wiped his hands on the sideboard. There is no bed I could buy that would mean as much to me. The only catch was, the bed was in the storage unit, which meant I finally had to deal with it. But still, I put it off. I knew I had a few more months of the toddler bed being acceptable and if he wasn’t pressing the issue, I certainly wasn’t. I kept telling my husband Darren that on his next day off we would do it, but I continued to make excuses.
On Monday Darren and I dropped Sawyer off at Mother’s Day Out at our church which incidentally is the same place I attended as a child and the same church my dad was a member of as a child. Four days a week we walk him up the same ramp my mom and dad walked me up. Somedays I can hear my dad’s laugh on that ramp. I can feel his hand in mine, just like I am 4 years old again without a care in the world. Monday was one of those days I felt my dad. It was like an energy washing over me. I felt the warmth of one of his hugs and in that moment, I knew it was finally time. I looked at Darren and told him we needed to go to the storage unit. To his credit, he didn’t roll his eyes or make a snarky comment. He just said ‘okay’ and we headed off.
When we got the unit I didn’t feel the crushing anxiety that I expected. We opened the big door and looked inside. I think I was expecting to be immediately overcome with emotion but instead, I just felt at peace. These boxes weren’t my dad. They were just stuff. We started combing through them to figure out what was actually worthy of being kept. It turns out there wasn’t much. I managed to get through more than half of the boxes before I even shed a tear. It wasn’t until I reached the box full of papers that I really lost it. Years and years ago when my dad was 6 years old, he wrote a book about visiting his granddad. I loved to read it a kid even though I wasn’t supposed to touch it because its pages were old and I wasn’t gentle. I ended up ripping one of the pages and I remember how devastated my dad was.
He wasn’t angry but I knew how upset he was, so I made my own copy of it and gave it to him. He was nice about it but I could tell it didn’t make up for me damaging a piece of his childhood. The original is in my mom’s possession and I assumed my copy had been thrown away years ago, but it was there, in a box full of my dad’s most precious items. He saved it along with all of the father’s day cards, drawings and little love notes my siblings and I gave him throughout the years. The little book now yellowed with age is a representation of my dad’s love for us. The man lost everything from TV remotes to left shoes. He wasn’t the sentimental type and he threw away so many important things on accident, but he somehow managed to hold on to an 8 page book. I carried the now frail book to my car with reverence and carefully placed it in the glove box. I’m not saying it was worth holding onto a storage unit for six years for such a small thing, but in that moment, it sure felt that way. You never stop missing someone. The pain lessens but it never truly leaves you. My dad might not be with me anymore but he will always be a part of me. He is that unexpected breeze on a day without wind. He is the lone Blue jay sitting outside my house on a rainy day. He is everywhere, and he is always with me even on my darkest days.
After the book discovery I was pretty drained but we still had to unearth the twin bed, so we kept going. I discovered a few more highly sentimental items like the thank you cards my classmates had written my dad after he brought popsicles to the school every month for a year. I hadn’t forgotten about it but to see these sweet notes written by my first and second grade classes professing their love for the Popsicle man reminded me just how beloved my dad was. The first note on the stack was written by a man who I now see fairly regularly because he is the manager of my favorite hardware store. I actually saw him later that day and told him about my discovery. He got a giant smile on his face and gave me a huge hug. The memory of my father brings so much joy to others – even those who only knew him for a short amount of time. I want to be like him so badly. I want to light up rooms when I enter and to make others feel like they matter. I want to always spread love and bring joy to the world. They are big shoes to fill and I hope I can live up to his memory. I just want to make him proud.
After what felt like five hours but was actually only 45 minutes, we managed to get the bed out of the unit and loaded in the car. We finished separating the items worth keeping from the trash and we closed the door. It took me six years to do 45 minutes’ worth of work, but it is finally done now. The last of the loose ends are done, and guess what? I am okay. Throwing away old shoes and holey underwear didn’t break me. If anything, it brought me closer to my dad. I got to relive bits of my childhood and see tangible proof of my dad’s love.
My childhood bed is now set up in Sawyer’s room. On his first night sleeping in it, I snuggled up close to him and showed him how to trace the carvings. I told him a story about his grandfather and held him close. I showed him the purple paint on the sideboard and explained how it happened. I played with his hair and whispered in his ear how much I loved him. He doesn’t comprehend how hard it was for me to get the bed for him, nor does he know long I avoided it. All he knows is that he is a big boy now and that his bed used to be his mommy’s/Aunt Sissy’s/Uncle Sammy’s bed. As he was falling asleep, he looked up at me with his big brown eyes that look so much like my dad’s and said, ‘Thank you mommy. I love you much.’ And in that moment, everything was perfect.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Hannah Hargrove of Dallas, Texas. You can follow her work on Facebook. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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