Two Years

Posted On: 07.12.10


Dad (a.k.a. Strachan Donnelley a.k.a. “Potsie”) March 22, 1942- July 12, 2008

It’s 6:34am on Monday, July 12, 2010. I sit here, at my cluttered desk, saddened by reality, soothed by the vigorous hum of the air conditioner. I sit here at the beginning of another day of my life. A day that’s not just another day.

Two years ago today, Dad died. I don’t tell you this to be a downer. I don’t tell you this to garner sympathy or to ensure a slow trickle of sweet comments into my existential orbit. I tell you this because it is true. A fact. One that I can’t change as much as I’d like to.

Sometimes though, I play that game. That game wherein I could trade something in my life, offer up an aspect of my good life to the cosmos, to have him back. It is often in those damp moments before falling asleep at night when I remember Dad in his broad-shouldered fullness, his irreverent and brilliant musings, his dancing mustache and biting wit. It is in those moments that I, unconsciously or no, fight back tears. In those moments, I think, sometimes, of what a kick he would get out of watching me pursue my passion, of how much joy my kids, my rough and tumble and good creatures, would bring him. It is in these outwardly quiet moments when I decide – feverishly and foolishly – that I would give almost anything to bring him back.

And it’s a silly and cruel game because I can’t have him back. This is not the way life works. Or time. I must move forward, treading paths carefully paved and those exquisitely unseen, toward that thing called the future. And Dad? He will never be in that future. And, depending on the minute of the day, this simple reality kills me. Something that helps? Writing about him. Remembering him. Taking stock of my life in his absence. Tracing the contours of the stunning shadow he has cast over my landscape. All of this helps. And so I do it.

I do it today. Because I need to.

Two weeks ago, while spending time at Dad’s childhood home, Husband, the girls, and I drove a short distance to the cemetery where Dad was buried. We did this last year too. Last year, I was scared to go. But then Mom went to the cemetery and though I wanted to go with her and be there for her, I stood there and watched her go, frozen with fear, and cried. But then I bucked up and had my good man drive me there. And last year, upon returning from visiting Dad’s grave, I scribbled the following words I never published (words edited only to keep things about my kids anonymous):

July 2009

Today was one of the saddest, most magical days of my life. Disorientation. Headache. A baby crying. Pictures of you everywhere. The smell of your past and mine and ours together. The candy green grass and gentle wind. The coy sunshine. Suddenly, I felt it. The “it” I felt? The hole. The hole you have left in my life. In my heart. In my mind. In my future. In my happiness.

Mom said goodbye to go to the cemetery.  And the tears came. Furious and fast. My little girl asked if I had a boo-boo. Yes, I told her. A big one.

We piled in the car and there I was trapped between the two creatures I love most in this world: my babies. They laughed and cried and fussed and played with stale French Fries and toy telephones. We all sang Happy Birthday. Husband drove fast, with purpose. That route I traveled almost one year ago, padded and pregnant in the back of a vast limo.

The trees were green. Too green. Mocking green. And then there was the arch, the big Gothic arch I didn’t think I remembered, but I saw it and it all came back. We drove through and parked the car.

I pulled Baby from her seat and walked over the fresh-cut grass shielding her bald head from the impossible sunshine. I looked down and there it was.  A small rectangle with your name and the dates. The dates of your beginning. And your end.

And behind my big white sunglasses I cried. And placed Baby down on the grass. She reached for the letters of your name, traced them with her chubby little finger. Crawled toward you, blue eyes squinting, and let out a hearty giggle.

I said: “Hi, Dad. I love you and miss you everyday. Everyday.”

And then I said: “This is Baby.”

And then because I am a coward or because this was too much, I scooped her up. The little girl whom you never met, who slumbered and somersaulted in my belly as you left us.

We walked back toward the car where Bob Marley crooned sweet instructions No Woman, No Cry.

We drove away. We had lunch. We went to a toy store. We went home. To your home. Your childhood home.

I love you and miss you everyday.  Everyday.

I read these words from one year ago and, yes, there are tears in my eyes, but more that that, there is realization in my mind. I am, slowly and imperfectly, moving on. This year, Husband drove his three girls to the same candy green, idyllic cemetery. And this time, I plucked Toddler from her car seat. I didn’t tell her where we were (she has plenty of years to learn such things), but we walked over to that plaque. And my girl, my big girl, crouched down and recited the letters of Dad’s name. And this made me smile and cry. And then I said to her something simple and something true.

“It says Donnelley. You are a Donnelley too, you know.”

And she smiled. And said something. Something perfect. “Donnelley. Like Old MacDonald!”

I scooped her up and hugged her tight. Over my little girl’s shoulder, I looked down at that little rectangle of stone and whispered something, Hi Dad. I love you, and told myself that somehow, someway, he saw me there, cradling my growing girl, shaky with sadness and strength, love and longing, moving on.

And then we hopped back in the car, two Donnelley girls, and we drove to the same lunch spot from last year. We sat outside on the patio. We laughed a lot. The girls mashed macaroni and cheese all over their faces and crayons all over their clothes.

And today. I am here. Back here. At my desk where I do so much of my writing. And thinking. And missing. I sit here, hearing the sweet pitter-patter of little feet outside my door, listening to Verdi’s Requiem. Dad’s favorite. An intense and glorious piece of music Dad cherished. An intense and glorious piece of music we played at his funeral a little more than two years ago when we collectively uttered that formal, but incomplete goodbye under the big trees at his childhood home.

Today, I still feel that hole in the linen of my life. Today, I feel it more than most days. But that’s okay. For this hole is one that is now part of me. Of who I am. And I embrace this hole, tiny on some days and vast on others.

Some holes are meant to be acknowledged, not patched.

A tiny girl in watermelon pajamas just burst through the door. “Hi, Mommy!” she crooned. Simple and not so simple words that remind me that there is more than that hole.

So much more.

Thank you all, seasoned readers and newer visitors of this blog, for allowing me to write and feel and heal here. For me, words are the profound means by which I recognize and revere aspects of my life, good and bad an in between, that need recognizing and revering.

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38 Comments for: "Two Years"
  1. Sorry for your loss. I am not a fan of simple platitudes. I won’t tell you that there is a reason for it or anything of that sort.

    But what I will say is that sometimes the experiences we undergo through losing someone special are good for writing. They force us to look at life differently and they help us tap into something raw and special for writing. It is an authenticity that we might not otherwise reach.

    Clearly it is not how we want to get to this place, but sometimes we have no choice so….

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  3. Wow Aidan I almost couldn’t get through this post, tearing up as I take a few minutes to catch up with my bloggy friends before facing the reality of Monday morning. I think I’ll give my Dad a call today.

    I know you didn’t write this with the intention of garnering sympathy, but know that you have mine regardless.

  4. Aidan – My thoughts are with you today. I know how hard a day it is and I know that you will survive it with those you love.

  5. When I lost my mother, over a decade ago now, there were things that helped with the healing: fabric and color because she was a quilter. You are so wise to turn toward the things that you shared with your dad to soothe your soul, because you are right, “some holes are not meant to be patched.” But tending them is important.

    Today, before I knew what you’d be writing about, I posted a smidge about your book, recommending it on my site. It is my small belief that somehow (and I don’t know how…) your father knows about your impact.

    Did you and he talk about how your words would reach to people you never met? How your ideas would ask questions in other people’s hearts? How could a father be more proud of his daughter? I believe this is his wisdom living on in you, lingering in others.

    As I passed out my mother’s fabric and felt it connect me to others over dinner tables and napkins and curtains I found in their homes I felt her nurturance continue. I hope you will feel the continued presence of your father as your ideas permeate the wide reaches of the world.

    I also hope to raise a daughter as devoted as you. Your love inspires.

    • Rebecca,

      Your comment made me realize that I cook and bake to help the healing with the loss of my mother. Thank you for adding a little clarity.

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  7. Jessica

    Beautiful. I am thinking of you today. Love you, xoxo

  8. What a wonderful tribute for a great man. Thinking of you, your sisters, and your mom today — and everyone else who was so touched by the life and legacy of your father.

  9. Soon, it will be 5 years since we lost my dad. The pain is still there, every day. The longing, the wishing, the remembering.

    But it is certainly less acute, less painful, more comforting now, the memories, the process of remembering.

    It doesn’t get easier, this world without a Dad. There are still things I want and need to ask him, things only he would know. And yet, we continue on, we live, we love… and most importantly, we remember.

  10. My warmest thoughts and prayers go out to you this morning. Take care of yourself today.

  11. Thinking of you and your family today.

  12. Beautiful, Aidan, simply beautiful. Thank you for sharing a little of your dad with us, and for reminding us that life does go on, even after impossible sadness. I need this lesson so much right now…

  13. san

    I’ll just offer you a hug today.

    I wouldn’t know what to do without my Dad.

  14. While you clearly know this, as you a re a published author, your writing skills are amazing. Not just because you write well, but because you were able to convey your thoughts and emotions so clearly to someone whom you’ve never met. I felt like you were sitting here talking to me. I’m sorry about your loss. I hope I, too, can one day write so openly and honestly on my blog.

  15. D

    I too have played those fruitless games of what I would trade to have my dad back. He has been gone for 14 years and while it has gotten easier, the hole will never close. But I have found that I see glimpses of him in my children at all different moments, in their faces, mannerisms or an offhand comment they make. And to me, these glimpses are a form of immortality. While they don’t fill the hole, they do help to cover it with the promise of joy and limitless possiblity that my children represent to me.
    Wishing you peace on this difficult anniversary.

  16. Crystal

    Having just marked the one year anniversary of losing my dad, this was hard to read. I can now add “Cried while reading a blog” to my list of things I’ve done…I’m back at the place you were last year but having read this, I look forward to the place where you are today. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Linda

    My thoughts are with you today…

  18. “Some holes are meant to be acknowledged, not patched.”

    When my mother passed away I did not believe I would ever recover. The hole was too great. But time has helped me acknowledge that hole. There are good days and there are bad days, but the hole will never cease to exist.

  19. Yes. I do the same thing with words, and I find that when I come to places like yours, my head gets all spin-ny with the same kind of healing and working through as when I write. That’s a gift that you have and share with us, so THANK YOU. This was a beautiful post of remembrance and heart-gut feelings. I will say I’m sorry for your loss because I can’t help it, I really am. And then thank you again for sharing yourself here.

  20. Meg

    Thinking of you and your family, and sending love your way.

  21. You’re so right. You felt it: the hole. My father passed away when I was 6, and I’m still not over it. Not yet.

    And words, words heal. I began writing in the 8th grade, to try and get all the trapped pain out, and I’m still writing for that very same reason.

    I am so very sorry for your loss, and for the grandfather your little girls will not have the pleasure and delight in ever knowing. Such a profound loss.

  22. “Some holes are meant to be acknowledged, not patched.”

    This stuck out to me, as it has for others. For me, that hole is where a father should have been, but wasn’t. I think I stumbled through life for long, dark years searching for something that would fill the gaping wound and make me feel whole. Since having children and learning that I am whole even with the hole, I have stopped trying to fill it and have instead begun to tend it and respect it.

    This simple line says so much.

  23. Emily W

    Absolutely lovely.

  24. peace be in your heart.

    ‘every day my not be good, but there is something good in every day.’ reading that was sad, but true and is my ‘something good’ today.
    enjoy the day, aidan.

  25. Thinking of you today…

  26. ayala

    My thoughts are with you. Losing my dad May 2008 was heartbreaking. My mom followed him last August. There is not a day that I don’t miss them. Suddenly I felt like an orphan with a big hole inside. I was a daddy’s girl. I think of all the things that he and my mom miss with my boys. I am sorry for your loss Aidan !

  27. mika

    he may not be physically with you, but he is always there beside you. best of luck today

  28. Your words bring tears to my eyes. My dad will be gone 24 years in September. I’ve learned you do go on, as my mother so correctly predicted and have a good life, but you never stop missing.

  29. I knew today was the day. I wanted to write you earlier. This post is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read. We are the same age yet you have this strength and courage that I admire so much. I lost my dad in 2007 and since the funeral I have not felt able to visit his grave site. My mom visits all the time but I just can’t do it. I was the one who chose the inscription on his tombstone ‘Good Night Sweet Prince and flights of Angels Sing Thee to Thy Rest’ (Hamlet)I’m just not ready yet to visit.

  30. When I saw the title I knew what you were writing about. I also remembered how eloquently you captured the loss in LAY.

    I am glad that you are writing about–through–your pain. I know it helps me as I struggle with my own losses and I truly hope it does heal you in some way.

  31. Thinking of you Aidan and your loss. I know this pain too well.

    Wishing you peace, my friend.

  32. Aidan,
    I am seeing what you are going through with my husband. He lost his mother a few months ago and it is so hard to sit and watch him deal with the hole her death has caused . Our grief changes us in so many ways. Our memories have new meaning. Our future memories are altered forever. Everything and everyone has changed. It sounds like your father was an exceptional man and I am sure he lives on in you.

    I am so sorry for your loss and I dread the day when I have to go through what you are going through. I am going to call my mom now…:)

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