So. Yeah. It’s January 30th. Again.
If you know me and are connected at all with me through social media, this is the day I typically flood my news feed with pictures of my father and remembrances of him. This is the day he left this plane of existence for the next. This January 30th, though, is different. It’s different because it’s the 20th without him.
When Dad died on January 30, 1998, I sat and counted the minutes and then the hours I had been without him. On February 1, 1998, I started counting days. On my birthday, February 6, the counting of weeks began. Then months. I’m sure you all know what I’m talking about.
Twelve hours ago, Dad was still alive.
Four days ago, Dad was alive and talking to me on the phone.
Two months ago, Dad was alive and planning to come visit me.
Then, there were the holidays and missed birthday. Those were always the worst, especially Father’s Day. Father’s Day 1998 was a day when I just wanted to crawl into a hole and pretend the world didn’t exist.
When I reached the first year mark, on January 30, 1999, I still counted, but it started to seem pointless. My mind was blown that it had been a whole year since he left. My daily dose of Zoloft and weekly trips to my psychologist had somewhat helped with my grief, but it was still there, simmering just under the surface. The worst moment was when I opened my dad’s letter to me.
Several years before his death, as his health declined, Dad wrote letters to me, my mother, my Uncle Curtis, and others. I don’t know how many he wrote in total, but they were all sealed and stored in a drawer. When I read it after his death, I bawled. I thought, one year later, that re-reading it would be easier. It wasn’t. It still emotionally ripped me apart.
Each year thereafter, on the anniversary of Dad’s death, I would read his letter to me. Sixteen days later, on the anniversary of Uncle Curtis’s death, I would read Dad’s letter addressed to his older brother, a letter I had inherited upon my uncle’s passing. And every year I would cry horrible, ugly tears all over again. I did this up until 2008, when the distance between my father and I added up to ten years and my children were small. I remember reading the letter, crying, wiping away my tears, and getting on with the business of taking care of my babies. Amelia, though, noticed my wet, red eyes, and tried with her little hands and arms to soothe me. It was that year that I decided to stop reading the letters.
They sat, folded and untouched in my dresser until today. I opened them up, read them, and cried as if today were January 30, 1998, not January 30, 2018. Twenty years later and the grief is still just as fresh as yesterday, the big difference being that the grief no longer squats on your heart. It may, instead, follow you from ten, twenty, one-hundred feet behind you. Yes, life continues and you get busy and get on with the business of living and moving and breathing and continuing. Your brain fills up with grocery lists and vacations, to do lists and time with friends and family. Seeing Dad’s picture isn’t as heart-wrenching as it once was and the fun memories with him have overtaken the bad memories of January 30, 1998, but the hole in my heart is still there and still as raw when I decide to look closely at it.
This year, rather than pictures, I decided to share the words my father wrote to me.
Writing this letter to you is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Cause you know that I love you more than anything in this world. I’m writing your letter last–I have kept putting it off.
My hope for you Heather is that you will find true happiness and live a full and clean life and if there is a Heaven that we will meet again.
Heather please remember me every now and then–I would never like for you to not think about me now and then.
It seems only yesterday that Mom and Dad brought you home from the hospital. It was snowing and you rode home on Granny Smith’s lap.
The years sure flew by and I always wanted to be near you and hear about what you did–sometimes I know I bugged you a lot.
I remember all the good times at Montrose–the Halloween parades when I would dress up in the rabbit outfit. Then to junior high and the band–all the good times we had. I always remember you bringing the band onto Oaks Field–you made Dad so proud. Then on to high school and the old band podium I had to drag around and nobody would help me and when you kicked butts in your last year.
I remember the first junior high band festival at Wayne County when you won first place. I can still see you hollering “We’re #1!” and that you were.
Heather I can’t write of all the good times we had. Maybe from time to time you can remember them. Space Camp, the trip with the Spirit of America band and me crying. All the Rainbow Girls trips we made. The trips to Lewisburg–I never did take a short cut home. When I had the back trouble and you were in the floor with me. We really had some good times, that’s for sure.
And all the trips I made to Georgia.
What I’m trying to say Heather is that you have been one heck of a daughter and I wouldn’t trade you for a sack of boys–you were always strong and willing to run with the big dogs.
Heather as you go through life there will be a lot of bad times. Just try and do your best–I always tried to treat everyone like I wanted to be treated of course–you will run into some assholes. The best thing to do is just get away from then and do what you think best and always keep the ones you love the most around you.
I love you,
PS See you upstairs.
Pardon me while I wipe off my computer keyboard.
If you’re reading this and have yet to experience the deep, horrible sadness of the death of a parent, sibling, or child, just know that there is no timeline of grief. There’s no magic day that you wake up “over it.” You’ll never be over it. And fuck the first person who asks, “Why are still crying and upset? Hasn’t it been long enough?” It will never be long enough. I can guarantee you that if I live to be 100, I will still cry huge, nasty tears over Dad’s death, his birthday, Father’s Day, and his letter to me.
In writing my book, there’s a chapter that talks about the day my father died. I cried as I wrote it and went through my edits. In fact, the editing of that chapter took about two months because my editor wanted me to go deeper into my emotions and I just found that it was too hard. It was raw, the process was harsh, and it proved that my sadness is still there, still more fresh than ever. I’m glad I did it, but I don’t want to ever do it again. January 30, 1998, will always hover just behind me, waiting each year to remind me that life is fleeting and sometimes horribly unfair. Knowing it’s there just makes me appreciate my life, children, husband, and memories all the more.
So, in honor of my dad, go hug your parents today, or the people who are like your parents. Hug your children, your spouse, or your best friend. Hug the person or people who mean the most to you. Tell them you love them and raise a glass to Thomas Edward Scarbro, and let’s all remember his unique spirit.
Love to you all.