Were I living in the 19th century, today would be the day I cast aside my black clothing, stepped out the front door, and re-entered the world around me. Today my year of mourning for my father would be over, and I could take up my normal life once again. It’s almost laughable, isn’t it, the way this custom has changed. No year spent wearing black dresses and being tastefully excused from everything except church services on Sunday. When my father died a year ago today, I boarded a plane to Florida the very next morning and spent a couple of days helping my stepmother arrange for his cremation. That accomplished, I then flew back home where I went straight from the airport to a weekend spent rehearsing with my handbell group.
And then life returned to it’s normal pattern – not just musical rehearsals, but grocery shopping and dog walking, doing the laundry, cooking, cleaning, paying the bills, checking emails, talking with friends.
But underneath all those regular everyday activities - the things that grounded me in so many ways during this year of coming to terms with being really and truly Fatherless - there was always a pervasive sense of vulnerability, of teetering on a precipice of disaster. A deep chasm opened up beneath my feet, a large chunk of the very earth on which I stood was scooped out from under me. I sometimes felt myself free-falling into danger, with no one there to rescue me.
I was one of those golden girls, the ones whose fathers protected them and coddled them and pampered them. All I had to do was ask, and it was given to me, done for me, made to happen. More than a protector, more than a spoiler, my Dad was my Champion, the one who believed in me, who never doubted my value, who thought I could do anything and be the best at whatever I did.
One of my clearest childhood memories is of running a foot race at my dad’s Lodge picnic and seeing him at the finish line waiting for me, arms outstretched, a huge smile on his face as he cheered me on. “Come on Beck! You can do it!” he called.
I won the race, a truly amazing feat for a child who was never allowed to run because it might cause an asthma attack.
But on that day my feet had wings.
So it is that sensation I miss the most. I miss having the lasting support of that man who cornered my soon-to-be husband in the church basement minutes before our wedding with a solemn warning that he had “better treat my baby right.” And even though it had been years since my father could actually do anything concrete to help me, I believed he was still in my corner, still rooting for me to be happy whatever that took.
Life goes on after loss, and it goes on faster in this 21st century than ever before. We present a semblance of normalcy to the world when sometimes we feel anything but. We wobble and waver when the bulwarks of our past leave us. We feel unearthed and unsettled without those people who gave strength to our weakness, added joy to our accomplishments and sustenance to our spirit.
Unlike my 18th and 19th century sisters, I never wore the outward trappings of mourning, didn’t spend the last 12 months sequestered away from polite society. But in my heart there dwells a small quiet chamber that holds only memories, the ones I keep like treasures to remind me of a man who held me so dear.