My dad died three months before my wedding.
I remember our last conversation so vividly, as if somehow I knew it was the end. I was with my fiance (now husband) visiting his family at the beach. A delicious meal had been prepared and I was asked to run to the store for a few last minute ingredients.
Just as I was parking, my dad called. You know when you look at the name on your phone and decide whether or not you should pick up? Well, that’s what I did. I thought that my dad could wait because my focus was on impressing my future in-laws. But something, no, God told me, to pick up the phone.
Hey baby girl.
Oh, I had to run to the store for some stuff for dinner.
Oh ok. Are you enjoying yourself?
YES, Daddy! I can’t wait for you to come here with us. It is awesome.
You know I love you.
Of course, Daddy.
I am real proud of you.
For being who you are.
Thank you Daddy! I love you.
Love you too baby girl. I’ll let you go and get into the store. Be safe.
Ok. Love you.
Love you, too.
Having a wedding without your dad is probably one of the biggest emotional roller coasters you can go through – or so I thought. When I found out I was pregnant with a boy, I thought about all of the times my dad joked with my sister and I that he wanted a son.
While pregnant, I thought about how tickled my dad would be to cruise around in his old school car with my little man by his side. When my oldest son was born, it was as if I was looking at a miniature version of my dad. My dad’s friends would meet him and literally be taken aback by the resemblance. I knew I had to keep his memory alive, but I struggled with how to make the connection for him and his little brother to come.
How do you get to know someone when you have never met him?
I decided we would call him “Papa in Heaven”. Over time, we have incorporated Papa in Heaven in our lives so that our boys know that even though they never met him, he loved them before they were even born. We use lots of ways to remember my dad. Here are a few:
The easiest way to connect your child with a deceased loved one is to share pictures. Pictures can paint a timeline of the love and memories you shared. I love to flip through photo albums with my boys and tell them stories about all of the adventures we took with my dad. They especially get a kick out of the 70s styles!
Talk to your children about your loved one’s favorite activities, especially if it is an activity your child also enjoys. Share jokes, sayings, and other memories that show how your children are connected to your loved one. My dad was in the army and my boys are military fanatics. Between the two of them, we have probably had six military themed birthday parties. This is just one of the ways they feel closer to my dad.
Family traditions are the best. Sometimes it is hard to continue those traditions when your loved one is gone because it reminds you of your loss. But, it can also keep you connected to your loved one by sharing it with others. My dad always took me to my favorite Mexican restaurant for my birthday. Today, we go to the same restaurant as a family because Papa in Heaven always did.
Heirlooms don’t have to be elaborate expensive pieces of china. They can be a handkerchief, or a pair of sun glasses; anything that is an immediate reminder of your loved one. Recently, my mother gave each grandchild something special that belonged to my dad. Each piece was something that had specific meaning to them. She might as well have given them a million dollars because they treat their special heirloom more precious than gold. Having something tangible that belonged to my dad makes him real to them.
There isn’t a timestamp on the sadness you feel from the loss of a loved one. It can hurt 20 years later as if it happened 20 minutes ago. That’s okay. The Season 2 Finale of This is Us where Kate gets married without her dad had me in a pretty sad place. As the tears flowed down my face, my boys came into the room. For a split second, I wanted to wipe my tears and put on my “everything is fine” face. But I chose not to. I told them I was sad because a TV show reminded me of Papa in Heaven. We talked about the fact that Papa in Heaven had been gone for 14 years, but sometimes mommy’s heart still hurts.
Losing a loved one is never easy, but keeping their memory alive for your children allows you to share with them the precious moments that made your loved one special.