The night that I celebrated five years in remission felt so long in the making. It seemed like so long since diagnosis; being able to take that sigh of relief on our deck while smoking a celebratory cigar gifted from a dear friend was something I had dreamed about for what seemed like the longest 5 years of my life.
Which makes it seem so odd that today marks the passage of another five years that seems so short: 5 years ago today, I lost my dad to cancer.
It didn't occur to me until I signed in at work this morning and saw the date: April 20. It even took a split second for the date to register in my brain. April 20. That date seems familiar...oh. Right. And then I did the math and realized that five years have passed, though some days it feels he was just with us yesterday.
Maybe the time seems to have passed so quickly because in some ways he's still here. My mother hasn't done much to his old room; the bed is gone, but some of his clothes are still in drawers and closets. I see a little of him every morning in my own face and in my hands, which are becoming more and more like his as I age.
I miss him, but I miss him for my daughter more. Ainsley doesn't really remember him, and she doesn't know how his face lit up whenever he saw her and how she made him mellow out and become downright child-like and giddy when she came to visit. He would be so proud of the little lady she has become.
I show her pictures and tell her how much he adored her, and she asks questions about him. I've told her a lot of stories about the man she called "Pap-oo": about the sports he played, and how he didn't live in a house with electricity until he was the age she is now, about how he worked long hours in a factory to provide for his family, about how he always had to have a cat around the house even when he was a little boy, about how he served in the army and learned to pilot a tugboat in Korea and Vietnam. Some day I'll tell her how, when she's standing in the sunlight, her hazel eyes become an olive color that reminds me so much of her Papaw's eyes.
He wasn't a perfect man, and in the past year or so my mom and I have become more comfortable talking about his flaws and dealing with getting past some of the painful memories. When someone first passes, they're sainted in your mind; as time goes on and you start to heal, you're able to see that person's life as it really was. I suppose that's also a stage of grief; not only dealing with how much you miss that person but dealing with the times that they didn't exactly light up your life.
No matter what, though, he was my dad and Ainsley's doting grandfather. And even though five fast years have passed and time has made me a different, more grown-up person than I was when I said goodbye, I will think of him every day and feel his absence in my life.
Dad, if you're somewhere looking over us... we miss you.