For Christmas in 1985, I bought my dad a blue sweatshirt that said “Best Dad on Earth.” He opened the package that morning slowly, looking unthinkably weak and much too thin and pale. “Thank you, honey. I guess I can’t get any better than that.” And he smiled.
It was the first thing I had heard him say in weeks. It was the last thing I heard him say. He never wore the sweatshirt. He died two days later.
I remember the sound of the machine flat lining when the paramedics were in our living room. I remember the sound of the zipper going up the bag they put him in. I remember listening to the truck pulling out of the driveway, carrying my dad’s lifeless body away.
My catastrophic teenage mind couldn’t see how we could live without him. I decided there wasn’t a God. How could there be one that could let this happen? I dipped deeper into worry, fear, isolation, depression, anger and disbelief.
Then one night I had a dream. I walked out into the hallway and there was my dad. I was so happy to see him! He looked healthy and strong and happy. He told me he was doing great and that I could move on now. He told me he was with me still, even though I couldn’t see him. He told me that everything was okay, just as it was.
When I woke up the next morning, the heavy weight crushing my heart was lifted. I knew with absolute certainty that he was still around, just in a different form. It suddenly seemed like everything was okay and I was allowed to be happy again. It would take me several years to actually act on this knowingly, but the stage was set; the healing had begun.
Many of you know I am doing a project called A Hundred Thank Yous. I am making 100 paintings for 100 people I adore. I will have an exhibition and then will happily give them all away. I got to thinking about how my dad would have been one of the first people on my list.
So I am dedicating this project to him.
Thank you for lighting up whenever I walked into the room.
Thank you for listening to me when I talked, for looking at me in that moment as if nothing else mattered.
Thank you for having a calm reaction to my terrible teenage meltdowns, for accepting me and loving me through that awful stage in my development.
Thank you for letting me paint my room purple when I was obsessed with Donny Osmond.
Thank you for not flipping out when I took the car out for a spin with my girlfriends before I had my license.
Thank you for your sweetness, for your cheerful disposition in the morning, for making me laugh so often, for bringing light heartedness and joy to our house.
Thank you for the day when I was in middle school and you went downstairs to get your camera because you said I looked so pretty.
Thank you for wanting us to wave in pictures- it was so silly and funny and now the pictures make me laugh.
Thank you for protecting me from seeing violent and scary movies.
Thank you for being a consistent, stable and safe presence in my life.
Thank you for taking us on a beautiful vacation to Lancaster County right before you got sick.
Most of all, thank you for creating a relationship with me where I knew, without any doubt, that I was truly loved beyond measure.
Hugs and kisses,