We lost my Dad on January 7th of this year. I haven't had the words to say it or write about it. Music hasn't sounded the same, and I hadn't smiled from the inside, for weeks.
My only comfort is that he passed peacefully in my mother's arms. She whispered loving words to him and comforted him, telling him how loved he is and will always be. Then she asked him not to be in pain any longer. He always said how he never wanted to leave her alone.
He took his last breath only after she promised to find him again when it was time.
Part of the reason why I'm at peace being alone is because when you grow up watching two people that are truly in love and devoted to each other, most other things pale in comparison. My mother is a strong woman, independent and very lady-like. My Dad was loving, with a brilliant mind, devoted. Their lives, together and individually, exemplify honor. My Dad really was a good man.
After he passed, I was incapable of writing a eulogy, until the actual morning of his funeral. I was up and ready early. As my mom, brother and daughter were dressing, I sat in his chair with his pen and a pad of paper he used for random notes. I felt him, and it came to me.
I had recently read a proverb that said that the richest man is he who figures out that the highest prize is to love and to be loved in return. My dad was a very wealthy man.
This man had a brilliant mind, but what set him apart was that he figured what was important in life, long before most people do. My Dad made sure that he invested himself in his family. He was consistent in showing his love every day.
In the end, in that moment when someone is writing my eulogy, that's really all I want. That my life will be a testament that every single day, I showed love, without expecting anything in return. If I am loved back, then like my Dad, I would have gone with all the riches to be had. In the end, that is all that we can take with us. The love we gave, and the love we received.
He was a 3rd generation military man. One of the hardest parts for us was hearing the cry of the soldier's trumpets as they played Taps, or when one of the soldiers knelt down in front of my mom and handed her the folded flag, that later soaked in our silent, falling tears. Watching my brother kneel at his grave saying his final good-bye ripped out everyone's heart who was there.
His service, burial and the way that we chose to remember him was so lovely and a perfect tribute to him. The Jewish and Christian sides of our family came together with love and grace to honor our Dad.
One of the most meaningful parts of this day for me, was my father, Carlos who came to the funeral to honor my step-dad. They always got along to so well, and respected each other. They both chose to honor my mother and I, by setting an example of how a man should be. Instead of ill-will, they chose to partner and co-parent for my benefit. The result? I was raised with two fathers that adored, cherished and honored me. When a father does that for his daughter, she learns to see herself this way, and accepts nothing less from the man in her life. How can I when I grew up with the example that these two men set for me? I thank God for my parents daily. All three of them.
I embrace every year that goes by, and thank God for the blessing. However, it hit me like a ton of bricks, that I wouldn't hear my Mom passing the phone to him and him saying his usual, "Happy Birthday, Pumpkin!".
Recently, I was caught up in running errands and went to call him to ask him a question. It had completely escaped me that my Dad was gone. I had reached for my cell phone and had even begun dialing. In an instant, a paralyzing and cold reality came over me. I stood in a supermarket aisle, shivering with tears streaming down my face. That was my defining moment that my dad Pat was gone. The second was on my birthday, knowing that never again will I hear his voice sweetly wishing me a happy birthday.
Heart-broken all day I was struggling for a way to turn it around. I remembered what a great sense of humor my Dad had and how he always made us laugh, and remember what was important.
I came home and decided to connect to him the best way I know how. He was an amazing cook and when I lived at home, we spent a lot of the time in the kitchen cooking and talking over techniques.
My friend had just let me hear a song yesterday that made me smile, and took me to a happy place. I put that on while I was cooking. And it made me smile again. It's just that kind of happy song, silly like his humor. I'm sure my dad would have liked it. Especially knowing that he was Irish and my Mom is Latina.
He was always saying how he loved his Puerto Rican girl. My dad was always madly in love with my mom.
I played the song and toasted to him while making a nice dinner for my baby girl and I, picturing my Dad relaxing peacefully on a beach, waiting for my Mom.
Tuscan Pasta with Cajun Crab.. why not?
Easy meal. Buy the fresh pasta from the refrigerated aisle in the market. I love fresh pasta so much better. Cooks in about 3 minutes after being added to boiling water.
Add olive oil, a pat of butter, sliced cherry tomatoes and diced onions. Simmer. Add in pasta after draining. I used angel hair.
Melt butter, add salt and freshly crushed garlic.
It went so well together. My Dad would have loved this. I chose crab legs because my daughter and I absolutely love them, and because my Dad's favorite restaurant when I was a kid was the Crab Shanty on City Island. It was a family tradition. The family went there after the funeral to honor and remember him. Everything about it, felt right.
It turned out to be a lovely evening with her. At one point we were both quiet and she said, "...I miss him too."
In that moment, I could swear that I felt my Dad. That he was there. And that if I listened closely, I would hear, a whispered "... Happy Birthday, Pumpkin."