"Grief is forever. It doesn't go away; it becomes a part of you, step for step, breath for breath... Grief and love are conjoined, you don't get one without the other." - Jandy Nelson, The Sky is Everywhere
I put off writing this letter this year. I've been busy, which would be a good thing, if I was busy with creative projects or a hobby I loved. But I think you might know that's not the case. So I'm writing it now, on a cold, cloudy day. The kind that reminds me of the day we found out you were never coming home. Don't worry, I'll get through it, because you taught me I can get through anything.
The good news is, the memory of this day didn't dog me through the last year. Eleven years didn't carry the solid throb of grief the way 10 did. It wasn't an every day, all the time sadness. It hurts. It won't ever stop hurting--in fact, it's sort of killing me right now, but I'm up, I'm breathing, I have plans for the future and if I've learned anything in the last 11 years, it's that if I don't feel like smiling, I can fake the hell out of it.
Grief is a funny thing. Some days I only think, God, I miss him, and I imagine your smile. But there are days like yesterday when it was getting dark and I heard a bunch of geese honking. I thought, Geese. There were so many geese that year. And that's the last time I saw you, looking at all those geese flying overhead. And I kind of hate them. I don't think much about them when I see them gathered around ponds or at the lake, but when I hear a flock of them, it takes me right back. That hurts. The realization that November 13, 2003 was the last time I heard your voice jolted me pretty hard this year too. If I could go back in time, I'd keep you on the phone forever.
The best part of this year is that the anger is finally loosening its hold. Grief's stupid stages don't have to make sense. They're just a jumble of bad feelings that come and go without any kind of order. They can leave me devastated or really pissed off or simply unable to care. I know, you hated the pyschobabble. I think it's kind of interesting. I just wish there was a time when there really was a stage where you wake up one morning and grief is no longer there. That's it, the end, happy now. To just be thankful that I had such a good dad when other people had lousy ones or none at all. Mostly, I'm not mad that you died. Not mad that you did it so far away. It wasn't like you died on purpose. It was bad luck, bad timing, a quirk in the universe that very obviously doesn't care if I think life's fair or not.
I think about the good things. Things you taught me and moments we shared. Now they're enough to tell the anger to take a flying leap. There's so, so much good to remember. I think about you almost every time I fold socks. I still can't believe I let you let me win that game of who could fold the most pairs. How dumb am I? I'm laughing right now, but it hurts a lot. And you would laugh too if you were right here.
The anger might be gone, but hope never dies. It never floats away, it never abandons me. In all things, I hope. If it's for a good afterlife where I get to see you again. If it's for a sign from you that a rough patch is going to be smoothed over. I hope and I won't stop. And I believe you know all the heartbreak we've felt since you left and that you'd have done anything in your power to make it not hurt so bad, but it was never your power to lift that burden. From grief comes strength you can't teach, it has to be experienced, because life isn't fair. It hurts, but it's not a deadly hurt and that's a little victory. I can still laugh and I know that would make you happy.
Sorry for the pyschobabble. What a terrible gift. I should've got you a card with a fart joke in it instead. Maybe next year.
There might be words to express how grateful I am to be your daughter, but I can't find them, not in strong enough words to tell you how lucky that makes me. Thank you for doing your best and loving me. I only wish I'd thought to tell you years ago. I love you.
I miss you like crazy.
Happy birthday, Daddy
Robert L. Cox
11/19/53 - 11/15/03