Every morning, my dad would shuffle out into the kitchen and make a noise. He would either cough very loudly or bang the dishes as he unloaded them from the dishwasher; whatever he needed to do to let us know he was awake. He was waiting on his morning coffee, that my husband would make for him every morning.
Dan and I moved into my parents’ house about seven years ago, to help care for them as they age. My mom had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and my dad was just slowing down. We remodeled and added on, so there would be room for the whole family.
My husband and I would sigh and complain a little about dad’s early morning wake-up calls. But, Dan would get up and head out to the kitchen to start his day and talk to Dad.
Dad’s been gone for four months now, and every morning, I still wake up and listen for the coughing or the dishes clanking around. But, I’m greeted with silence.
Today, on the darkest day in American history, I was thinking about this a lot, because, on this day 18 years ago, almost 3000 people went about their daily business. They might have left wash in the washer. Told their kids they would see them at dinner. Had weekend plans with friends. But, none of them came home.
We take all of the little things for granted. We take people and time for granted. We think we’ll have another chance to set things right. We’ll have another day to let someone know we love them. But, the harsh truth of life is that isn’t guaranteed. Nothing is.
Those little things about my dad that irritated me are the things I miss the most. And part of me feels guilty for complaining about being woken up an hour before I wanted to be. Or getting upset that even at 46, I needed to call and let him know I was safe if I went away without him.
I remember last October, during month two of his eight-month hospital stay before his death, my dad was talking to one of his doctors about a surgical procedure he was supposed to have. The doctor asked him what he wanted to do. My dad’s response was “I just want to be able to go for a ride with my family. If this will help me be able to do that one more time, then let’s do it.”
That’s all he wanted. One more car ride with us.
We are compelled to look at the bad every day and fixate on what we don’t have or the things that irritate us about the people we love. We are so busy doing and getting somewhere that we forget what’s important. Yes, my dad could be a pain in the ass. Can’t we all? But, when everything else in our lives is stripped away, all that matters is love. My dad knew that better than anyone.
I remember 18 years ago as I watched the events of this day unfold, I kept looking at my young sons and felt fear for the world they would grow up in. But, I also remember keeping them close to me all day and hugging them more than normal.
It seems that it takes a loss or a tragedy to appreciate what we have. I don’t have a magic answer on how to change that. I know that I continue to get irritated by the little things and underappreciate who is in my life and what I am lucky enough to have.
But, losing my dad has made me more aware of the moment. I’ve learned to live in what is, as that’s all we have. I’ve learned to love a little bit more and appreciate those tiny moments that make our lives worth living. And maybe that’s the one good thing we can take away from tragedy.