A year ago my father died unexpectedly of a blood infection, related to having his spleen removed years before when he successfully beat Lymphoma. If you are new to this site and you want to read about that day (I can't bring myself to write about it again) click here.
Instead, I want to write about a conversation I had with my six year old son last night.
I tried not to let them see me cry during the day. I kept unexpectedly breaking out into tears. I'm pretty sure they saw me anyway at times. We were at the beach; it was a sparkling blue day, and his spirit was everywhere. This is the same beach I grew up on with him, searching for minnows to use as bait, fishing for flounder out of his trusty aluminum boat, which is now our boat.
I did my best to think about his spirit; his aliveness. The one year anniversary of his sudden passing is full of little knee dropping moments of something close to horror. The things I saw that day, the memories I wish I could wipe from the screen.
By 6pm I had had it, though. I wasn't feeling well, my throat still hurts a lot, I couldn't eat much all day, and I collapsed into my bed in a ball of self-pity and tears. And missing Dad. Missing him SO MUCH.
I didn't hear the bare feet pad into the room, or sense someone climb into bed next to me; that's how hard I was crying. Only when Finn started to rub my back did I realize someone was there. I thought it was Steve, so I didn't curb my crying. Then, a couple minutes later I hear his little sing-song voice say, "It's okay, Momma," and I rolled over to see his deep brown eyes staring into mine; my own eyes in this little-boy face looking back at me.
"Do you miss PopPop?" he asked.
"Yes, Bud. I do. I miss him a lot." And, because I couldn't help myself, and I know he's only six and this is unfair but I was so desperate for love and attention I said it anyway: "It's been a long, hard year, and I'm feeling sad about having to go through all of it without my Dad."
He nodded sagely, his wisdom belied only by the careworn paw print blanket thrown cavalierly over his shoulder.
"Maybe now that da cancer is over, at least for now, it will help," he stated. Not a question, a statement of fact.
I nodded, rubbing my face with a Kleenex and trying to pull myself together.
"But, PopPop is in heaven, right? So that's not sad."
All I could do is nod.
He was quiet for a bit, his head on my shoulder, still rubbing my arm, when he said, "when I go to heaven I'm going to shut my eyes, because I'm afraid of heights." Another pause. "But not that it will really matter, though, because it will just be my spirit, right?"
I nodded again.
More silence, and then this bombshell, said in the quietest of quiet voices: "How do we know heaven is real? What if it's just dark?"
I sat up, and in my most authoritative voice said, while stroking his hair, "Buddy, we know heaven is real because heaven is love. Think of all the people that loved PopPop, right?"
He nodded, listening intently, his blanket now crammed in his mouth for comfort.
"Heaven is being surrounded by all that love. All the people who came before you, and all the people still here on earth who love you. It's beautiful. It has to be, because it's LOVE."
He thought for a moment, and said, "And God is dere, right?"
"Yes," I said. "God is there, and he is love, too."
He nodded again, thinking it through. "Does God let you down for visits, do you think? I'm the last in the family, so I'll probably be the last to die, and it will be lonely here without all of you."
"Oh, Finn," I said, pulling him in tight, "by then you'll be a Dad and have a family of your own. It goes on and on and that's what makes it so beautiful. There is no end."
He smiled. "But I still hope dere are visits. Maybe we don't even know about them. Maybe he sneaks down in the form of a bird or a butterfly and just watches."
"Yes," I said, "that would be nice. And sometimes I feel his spirit really strongly, so I know he's here, cheering us on. It's just hard because I'd rather have him - his body, his person, here. But you can talk to PopPop whenever you want to. Just close your eyes, and picture his face and say hello. I bet he can hear you. I bet he can."
And with that he scrunched up his eyes and fell back on the pillow, silent, talking to my Dad.
I miss you, Dad, with all my heart. You are in our hearts and minds all the time. We love you.
Dad and me, circa 1975.