Every year at this time I ponder the meaning of life and face my own mortality. 19 years ago today this Daddy’s girl lost her real life super hero to an 8 month battle with cancer. I was four days before my 19th birthday and he was only 41. Tragically, I am the oldest of four and my youngest sister was 11 at the time.
This year marks a sad turning point, I am officially crossing the threshold of time where I will now have spent more time without my Dad than with my Dad.
Everyone expects to someday lose their parents, at least parents pray that is how things go. Its how things should go. But when you lose a parent too soon, when that parent dies young, it forever affects your view on the world and your own mortality. Since I hit my thirties, I have been counting down to 41. The number looms around my subconscious daring me to surpass it and taunting me with dark possibility.
Last year, I decided to start making a video for Spork every year on this day. I sing her favorite songs, talk to her about how much I love her, and detail her milestones. I do this so if something happens to me, if I leave her too soon, she has 10 minutes of Mommy tailor made for her age and needs right now.
Between all of this and the imminent birthday, I cannot help but to contemplate the meaning of life and my own mortality. Of course, fertility is a factor. I keep thinking that if we get pregnant this cycle and I only make it to 41, I will leave Bill with a 5 year old and a 3 year old. I wonder if its irresponsible of me to even try. I worry what will happen to my little girl if she goes through her formative years without her Mommy.
Two nights ago, it all came crashing down on me. Lying in bed with Bill asleep beside me I began to question my faith and whether there really was an afterlife. My thoughts on the topic are for a different blog, but in the midst of what was threatening to turn into a panic attack I woke Bill up to discuss it.
Bill: No response.
Me: “Bill. Are you awake?”
Bill: Some rustling and grumbling.
Me: A little louder and acting surprised “Bill, you are still awake too?”
Me: “Oh good. I am freaking out a little bit. Do you ever start thinking about the meaning of life and freak out?”
Me: “Do you ever start thinking about what happens to us after we die and panic or get really scared?”
Me: “Oh. Okay. Because I am really freaking out.”
Bill: “Don’t freak out.”
I could tell from the grumbling and heavy breathing that followed that he was not awake enough to get me through my mini crisis and I was on my own. I did some deep breathing, a little meditation and eventually fell asleep.
And then I had the most amazing dream.
I won’t go into the somewhat weird and unimportant details, but I dreamed of my Dad. We talked. I don’t remember all the fine points of what we discussed or for how long but it seemed like it was all night. I do remember the sound of his voice. It has been so long since I heard it but it was unmistakably him. At one point I reached up and touched his face and I could actually feel the texture and temperature of his skin. It was so vivid and real. He had unique skin that was tough but soft at the same time, especially after shaving. I rarely dream of my Dad and have never had a dream like this. I didn’t want to wake up, and when I did I was exhausted even though I slept through the night.
Despite all my fertility superstitions, I am generally grounded in reality. I realize there is a limit to how much we understand about the universe but my open-mindedness stops short of believing that dead parents visit their kids in dreams. While I don’t remember the various things we talked about, I do remember the general feeling of the conversation was comforting. It felt like he was trying to put me at ease. He was letting me know he was okay and that I was going to be okay. Maybe this was a sign? Maybe he was visiting me from the great beyond to bring me peace?
And then he said something I do remember very well which totally shattered my illusions about it really being my Dad:
“I really miss fried okra. I wish I could have some fried okra. With bacon.”
Dad did like fried okra. And he liked bacon too. You can’t tell it from the photo in his twenties, but he rarely met a food he didn’t like which is at least part of the reason he is not here today. He could have used more exercise, a healthier diet, and a job that didn’t surround him with second hand smoke. But however much he loved fried food, I have to believe he would not travel through time and space and pierce the vail between two worlds to tell me he had a craving.
I know that what I experienced was probably just my slumbering brain working through its issues. I was unconsciously reconciling the pressure of getting closer to 41 and lamenting the loss of my father and my youthful eggs.
Still, I woke up at peace. Touching his face and hearing his voice gave me the feeling he was still with me, even if he wasn’t visiting me in my dreams. I knew with unshakeable certainty that just like I am okay, my little girl and her (God willing) sibling will be okay. I knew right away that as a parent I needed to accept that I can’t control what happens to them or to me in this life. I can give them life, give them my best, and pray.
I don’t know the meaning of life, but I am pretty sure we should soak it all in and savor every sweet moment. Kind of like the way Dad would have savored fried okra and bacon.
And just as it is with my Dad, I would rather have my family and this life for a short time than not at all. However I have a feeling that someday my kids will be watching decades worth of annual videos of their happy, old, crazy Mom.