Yesterday would have been my father’s 86th birthday. It’s been 13 months since he died. He died exactly one month shy of his 85th birthday. I was numb last year. This year, I’m not. I’ve learned a lot in 13 months: to cherish moments, to smile at the simple things, to watch children and pets playing, to appreciate nature, to slow down, to reach out to others, and to always celebrate a birthday. I celebrated his birthday. April 2nd will always be my father’s birthday even though he’s gone.
I surprised myself by not having major breakdowns. Sure, the occasional tear dropped down my cheek but that’s ok. Passionate people cry. My father was a passionate man. He let the occasional tear drop as well.
The least expected things triggered a good memory and a tear. I was practicing dancing foxtrot to “New York, New York” with my husband. That was the last song I sang with my father in Florida. It was my first karaoke debut. I still have the video. I can look at it now and smile. I didn’t sing well but my father still could even though his breathing was labored. He liked Frank Sinatra and that was probably his second favorite song after “My Way.”
The song that followed in our practice was “Could I Have This Dance?” by Anne Murray, a waltz. I think my father would appreciate my husband standing by me through some rough years in our 35 years of marriage and that we still dance together. My father loved my husband. He even joked a few times that he wasn’t taking me back and I was my husband’s problem now.
I wanted to get my father a gift for this year’s birthday celebration. I kept thinking he would say it’s a waste of money and make a joke about how he really can’t use it now. He’s probably smirking as I write this. So, my father sent me gifts (messages) for his birthday. Either I’m paying more attention to nature and everything that’s been around me all this time and/or my father is making sure I see it.
He started doing this last year. A carpet of miniature purple and lavender flowers, that are weeds, start to bloom throughout the yard a week before his birthday. My neighbor’s young granddaughter stopped by, knelt down, gently touched one of them and exclaimed, “These are so beautiful! How do you get all of these?” What could I say? My father sends them to me.
This same week my lilac bush had blooms. I planted that thing as a one foot sapling seven years ago and had to transplant it three times. The last transplant was five years ago. I just planted it way in the back and told the thing, “You either make it or not.” For five years nothing but a few leaves. This week, while I was standing on the deck, I looked toward it, squinted, and ran down the hill to it. That little thing had exploded to about three feet with multiple blooms for me to cut. What a surprise. My father always had lilac bushes in his yard on Long Island. Now, I have one too.
Folklore has it that cardinals are visitors from heaven. I have a pair. I call them Pop and Lillie. Of course, they’re both beautiful. They visit our birdfeeder and hang out on our trees. Every day they greet me and I say hi. I smile. I glow. I am content as a happy tear rolls down my cheek.
Birthday gifts from my father. I think of him every day. I miss him. The pain is no longer a gaping wound. It’s more like a huge scar. Sometimes it hurts but it goes away. So, my healing journey continues. Join me. Let’s celebrate a birthday. Happy birthday, Pop!
(Henry Alfred Rudolph. Born April 2, 1930. Died March 2, 2015.)
Column by Linda R. Jones