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The Hardest Part of Losing a Parent

grieving-a-parent“Google stock is splitting!” my sister emailed the other day. A few years ago, I’d picked up a small number of shares at what I considered a ridiculous cost. But Dad had always told us to invest in products we love, and Google makes my life work. So I bought into it. The stock price nearly tripled, and now I was going to own double the amount of shares. Yet I wasn’t as excited as I could have been. That’s because I ached to share the news with my dad, who passed away three years ago. He loved to play the stock market.

My father died of pneumonia at 88. He had Parkinson’s disease, he was no longer totally with it, and our family was prepared for his death as much as anyone can ever be ready to lose someone you love. I miss him at holiday gatherings. I miss him at my kids’ birthday parties. But most of all, I miss sharing life moments big and small. I still regularly get the urge to tell him stuff, only now there’s just a void where my father used to be.

Most of all, I’d really like him to know how my son is doing. Max, 11, has cerebral palsy due to a stroke at birth. Dad was grim about Max’s future; he knew, from his vast wealth of knowledge, just how much havoc the brain damage could wreak. But Max wowed us all. He walked at three years old and said words at age five. Dad knew about those accomplishments. But Max continues to make awesome progress, and oh how I wish my father knew. Max uses a speech app that speaks words for him, so he can more easily communicate with others. Last night, he typed the words “I am smart,” and I smiled and cried at the same time, so happy was I to know that he has such confidence. And then, I got sad that I couldn’t tell Dad.

I’m lucky that I still have my mom to celebrate these things with. Still, Dad and I shared certain passions, especially our love for all things new, noteworthy, and tech-y. Like I’ll be using the GPS navigator to get un-lost, and I’ll think about how much my dad, a gadget geek, would have liked it. Or I’ll check in for a flight using an app and mull over how Dad would have appreciated that convenience. My father was a health foodie and tried to hard to teach me and my sister about the joys of whole-wheat bread and the evils of sugar. As kids, we were not convinced; we had food fights with him all the time because we wanted junk like potato chips and candy. But as a parent, I try my best to feed the kids nutritional foods. When I make a dish with some trendy grain like farro or sub in applesauce in a recipe for oil, I picture Dad beaming down at me proudly.

My dad enjoyed reading newspapers, but even more he loved sharing information. In college, every week there would be several envelopes in my mailbox from him containing newspaper and magazine clippings, whether it was a New York Times article on calcium or one from Consumer Reports about the best kinds of answering machines (what passed for tech back then). When I was an adult I’d return the favor, gathering stuff for him to read. That instinct is still there: I will tear out the page from the magazine then sit there holding it in my hand, realizing there’s nowhere to send it.

I don’t know that this longing to share stuff with my dad will ever go away; does anyone ever really stop grieving that severed bond? I take comfort in the fact that his fascinations live on in me, and that I’m instilling them in my children. They called him “Zayde,” the Yiddish word for grandfather. The other morning, I made banana pancakes with my daughter, and I sprinkled wheat germ into the batter. I keep a glass jar of it in the fridge at all times. High in protein, vitamin E, and nutrients, it’s a food my father used all the time.

“Why are you doing that?” she asked.

“Because it’s good for you,” I said. “And because Zayde would have been proud.”

She pondered that. “Yes,” she said, “he would have liked it.”

And that did my heart good.

Image source: Flickr/Evan Leeson

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