May 18, 1982 was the day my dad lost his battle with cancer.
This year, the 27th since he died, there are some interesting parallels. Lawrence Edwin Beaver was 41 years old when he died. It is not lost on me that I am the age now that he was then. He had been married to my mom for about as many years then as I have been married to Curt. They had two daughters. I was 14 and my sister had just turned 12. My two oldest sons now are 13 and almost 11.
My dad had been farming professionally for about 12 years. He also had a budding political career. He had been tapped to fill the remainder of a county commissioner’s term, then ran for election and won the seat. He would not finish the term to which he was elected.
He was a native son from a well-respected family who married an equally well-respected local girl, and both families had generations of roots in the area. So you see, his loss left a void not only in our family, but in the entire community. It was NEWS.
People don’t know what to say to a kid who’s lost a parent. When you’re young, people will ask you who your folks are, or what your dad or mom does for a living. Where I’m from, back then, divorce and transiency were notable. The safe assumption was that a kid had – and lived with – their mom and their dad. Try this for a very effective conversation-killer: “Um, my dad…died.”
Insert awkward pause here.
But what are you going to do when life deals you a bad hand? Curl up in the fetal position and give up? Nope. Not us. We kept right on living. We had to. Milestone moments were difficult at first and even today remain poignant – learning to drive, proms, holidays, graduations, engagements, weddings, new jobs, births. After a while, after a bunch of milestones pass, you realize The Anniversary has rolled around the calendar yet another time.
What, again? Already?
On the night he died, Grandma Sara came back to our house and tucked me into bed… which was weird, because I was FOURTEEN and not in need of tucking in, thank you very much. I remember she said she had buried a husband, but there was no pain like having your child die, even your adult child. It upset the natural order of things, to outlive your offspring.
A few months before she died, about four years ago, I went to visit her. She said, “There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you.” Then she confessed that she always felt as if she may have failed me when my dad died, that perhaps she hadn’t done enough to help me back then. It was clear that it had been bothering her, and she needed to make it right now that her end was in sight. I found it surprising because I had never considered for a moment that anyone failed me then. I assured her that the whole thing sucked (and that’s the word I used to my 89 year old grandma) for all of us, but we all did the best we could to support each other through the ordeal.
Every great once in a while, all these years later, he shows up in my dreams. He is alive and we talk a little, though I never remember the words we exchange. The sense is that it’s comfortable, that he’s checking in, seeing how things are going in my life. Seeing how I turned out, maybe.
And I can’t help but think how tickled he’d be, having been the father of girls, to be surrounded by four grandsons. He’d love that we used his name and his father’s name for our boys. I know he would love his sons-in-law. He would be proud of me and all I’ve accomplished.
Today, I’m far removed from the farm. I’m a DC girl now. I have made my life here. I put down roots. But I am who – and what – I am because of my parents. My dad gave me my first 14 years. I’m sure he hated being cheated out of seeing how his kids would turn out. But then again - I kinda think he knows.