The Tenuous Gap

I walked to a familiar place and she was there. Ten years old, not a care in the world. Happy, bubbly, effervescent. I tried to keep from hugging her every second because I knew what she did not: I knew her existence was impossible. Even asleep I knew. It could never last long enough. But I didn’t want to act like I knew for fear something would change.

She glided – her full, long hair bouncing as we walked. We talked about everything and nothing. She held my hand innocently – that little hand threading itself into mine. I felt a stillness and a stirring love, immutable passion toward this thing that was and is no more. This family, forever changed. Still living, breathing, loving… but different than before. My restless soul felt peace.

Friends came to us and marveled because they knew what she did not. And I asked, “Do you see her? Am I crazy?”

They affirmed her presence and we strolled on. Blissfully and mercifully we strolled on.

And then, she left. As quickly as she came, she is gone and I am awake immediately. Morning light peeks around black curtains facing east. I roll onto my back and blink away tears because she is gone. Gone.

The distance between her visits has been too long. I lay awake, cursing the cruel ceiling that won’t let my mind drift back to sleep. It can’t rest now. It is focused – those bygone days of completeness… that little hand threading itself into mine. Long minutes pass. Cursing rolls to acceptance of what cannot be changed and the dream that will not be resurrected. I am keenly aware that the pillow is wet, past damp, it is wet. Are the tears rolling down my face of longing? Or are they tears of happiness? Because for a moment, for just a brief moment I felt it all! The hope… the love… the completeness… the sadness of loss.

“I love being here with them, but I hate being here without her.”

Without her is the way we now live. When loss digs its heals into one’s soul, life becomes a struggle to find stasis. There is a tenuous gap between happiness and sadness. The two are intertwined. Happiness is a possibility, sadness inevitable and thus there exists a fight for the zero point while being pulled at both ends – the little flag on a tug-of-war rope. Most grievers would say that happiness is the underdog. It never wins for long.

I am a griever. Yet I am a dreamer, too. I dream, and she is there. And I am happy for a moment. Eventually I must wake up and pull the rope against the big brute of sadness for my share of happiness – however small the portion. I will pull. I will smile. I will win… at times. I will also lose. But until my dying day I will pull. For even a fleeting victory is worth the struggle.

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Three is not Enough

While we sat together at dinner we were introduced to a nice, older lady. When the girls’ names and ages were given, she seemed somewhat overwhelmed.

“No boys?” She asked.

If I had a nickel… I shook my head, “Nope, all girls.”

“Three girls! Wow. You’re a good man.”

Picking up my fork, I thought that line of questioning would end and we could move on to other gentilities, or perhaps our salads. But it didn’t stop.

“Just stopped at three, huh? Three was enough? Didn’t try again.”

And just like that, simple words became broken shards of glass thrown against the soft flesh of my soul.

No, three is not enough. We have four daughters.

I saw my wife’s eyes well up immediately and I felt the heat of my own reddening face. When confronted with this awkward scenario, I’ve found I must make a quick judgment call. Most often I find it necessary to say her name – to politely plead her existence and memory. Kylie would be fifteen… Other times, I survey the situation and decide the correction would only embarrass the person to whom I am speaking. After all, she didn’t know any better. She didn’t know that I have a daughter who has died.

I let it pass.

I looked at the three daughters before me and thought of the one who is gone. I am a better man for all four. Going into fatherhood, I had no idea what the experience would give me. I assumed that I would be the teacher; and yet, I am most often the student. Each little nugget has given me unique treasures. I see beauty, root for the underdog, admire individuality, cherish time, and I value experience in wholly new ways thanks to them. My children have taught me more than I could ever teach them. If I could impart any wisdom on them it would merely be a condensed version of what I have learned in their company over the past twenty-one years.

But this begs a question: Am I a better man for having lost one of them?

It seems a preposterous proposition, but it is a question I ask myself. It is also one of my favorite questions to pose to other dads who have lost a child. Understand that when we meet, we grieving fathers are way past pleasantries from the outset. We almost always jump right to real, meaty conversation because of our shared experience. The answers vary – some say yes, some say no. Some ponder and ask me for my thoughts, but the question never fails to spawn meaningful dialog.

I have had a long time to consider the question. While simply being a father has taught me much, Kylie’s life and death have radically changed me.

I now know that love ranks above all else whereas money, status, and the things that men covet are basically meaningless.

I understand that the people in my life are meant to be treasured and that every experience has value all its own.

Where once I sought conformity, I now seek to celebrate uniqueness in myself and others.

I have come to respect things that are true and genuine regardless of how they make me feel.

I believe my faith was somewhat rote before, but now it is messy and something I must fight for every day.

I have learned the power of the moment – the simple joy of presence in the company of friends and family.

 

So yes, because of the things I have learned through this horrific experience, I believe I am a better man. The cost was far too high, however. I would rather have remained a shallow, worth-less human and have Kylie here. But I was not given that choice.

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Life is a series of undulations: some are relatively minor and the swells of others destroy everything. From each, we learn more about ourselves and about riding the waves so we can be better in the future. As a father, I sink, flounder, and gasp for air daily – my daughters will tell you that. I haven’t the power to calm the sea around me; I can only seek to use the lessons of the storm to be a better man or drown trying.

This much I know: Three is not enough. I miss my baby girl.

I am the father of four.