You’re Not Alone: Regrets and the last birthday card

linda jonesColumn by Linda R. Jones

A friend of mine sent me an article written by a woman whose father also died.  It took her over nine years to return to a new normal life.  I completely identified with this woman so I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes me that long as well.  Swell.  She also pointed out that there aren’t just five stages of grief.  She didn’t even know what grief meant.  What she did know was that she was a mess.  I understand.  There is no checklist.  Like this woman, I say my father died.  He didn’t pass.  He’s dead.  What is with this lovely social etiquette?  My father died.  I’m angry.  I also feel guilty, hurt, sad, and regretful to list a few emotions.  There are so many emotions.

Regrets.  “Get over it” is not going to work that quickly.  I have regrets.  I tend to procrastinate.  I have good intentions, I put things on a to-do list, and frequently I transfer those things on yet another to-do list.  Getting birthday cards are one of those.  I usually end up texting or calling the birthday person and telling them the card is in the mail.

In February 2014, I bought my father what would have been his last birthday card.  I was so proud my father would get the card from me on time that year.  The card was perfect.  A picture of a young father, on a beach, leaning against a fence, looking lovingly into his little girl’s eyes, his large protective arms wrapped around her.  The little girl looks up grinning at her protective Daddy.  Perfect because my father lived in Florida (like so many retired New Yorkers) and he always enjoyed the beach.  It was me and my father so many years ago, yet I still felt the same way.  The wording was perfect, too; simple and to the point.  The way my father would have wanted it to be.

I never sent the card.  I don’t know why.  I know I called my father and quickly sent a gift online because I had procrastinated with the card.  I always asked my father what he wanted for his birthday or holidays.  In his thick German accent, it was always the same thing: “What do I need?  I have everything.”  So, a simple card that said it all would have been great.  It would have been, but I didn’t send it.

My father never knew about the card.  I didn’t tell him I bought it and it was sitting on my kitchen counter.  That’s where the card stayed until my father died.  I looked at that card every time I had a cup of coffee.  I looked at that card every time I wrote down an appointment in my planner.  I looked at that card for over a year.  And I had a bad feeling the card would never be sent because my father was not going to have another birthday.  He didn’t.

I put the card in my journal and wrote on the back of the card, “for 2014, never mailed.”  Every time I write in my journal I make myself look at one of so many regrets.  Lately, I look at the card and smile.  It’s still a perfect card for my father.  I still feel the same way about my father.  Maybe I’ll write it to him on the anniversary of his next birthday.  I won’t be late because I can write it the same day.

My journey continues.  I don’t know the destination.  Maybe there isn’t one.  Maybe I won’t take nine years to return to a new normal life and maybe I’ll take longer.  Join me.  We’re not alone.

(Henry Alfred Rudolph.  Born April 2, 1930.  Died March 2, 2015.)

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