The flame on the memorial candle is starting to flicker.
I lit it last night in memory of my dad. The candle burns for 24 hours. This is the 12th time I’ve lit it, remembering the day he died 13 years ago.
My house is quiet. Everyone is asleep.
This is the first time I’ve watched it burn out alone.
The wax is all but gone. Just the wick remains.
There was never really any time to grieve, even from the beginning. Just days after he died, I was making the decision to step into his seat in the Vermont House of Representatives. My first answer was no, I can’t fill those shoes. A day later, I couldn’t think of anyone else who could. The Governor called a few days after that, appointing me to the seat. I was twenty-six and my days were filled with getting up to speed on legislation and buying fancy clothes.
Each anniversary from there was just…busy. I lit the candle but had my hands full. I went from the State House to marriage to full time parenthood in just a few years. There was never any time to reflect. Or grieve.
The flame gives one last flicker. Then it’s gone.
I am so angry at what the cancer took from all of us. The years that my sister missed with him. She was just 13 when he died.
He called her “his gal”. I was “curly top”.
My heroic mother took it upon herself to be our rock, even though she had never had the time to grieve the passing of her own mother just a year before.
He missed my brother’s graduation from graduate school. His wedding. My wedding.
He missed knowing the three most precious boys who all have names after him. He missed watching his grandson pitch his first game. Their first steps, their first amazing words.
My boys want to know him. Gerry asks about his political career and talks about the injustices in the world. Howie told me “It’s too bad your dad is dead. He can’t make Hot Wheels tracks with you.” I know my dad would see the humor and love in that.
I am filled with such anger at the stupid cancer that took him from us. Pancreatic cancer is the same killer it was 13 years ago. A survival rate of just 5%. I’m angry at all cancers. Too many members of my family have been in a battle against this indiscriminate disease: my mother, my mother-in-law, aunts, uncles and cousins. It’s not fair. I hate you, cancer. You rip the innocence right out from underneath us all.
I stare at the candle. I never know what to do with it once it’s out. It seems weird to throw it away, but just as weird to keep it.
I still have dreams about him some nights, thirteen years later. Sometimes I’m talking to him. Sometimes it feels so real that when I wake up, I wonder if the whole thing is just a dream. There is still so much unfinished business between us. So many things I still need to know. So many stories that I need to hear again. I’m starting to forget the little memories and I want to pass them on to my own boys. There is a piece of him in each one of them. I want them to know their history and it’s getting harder for me to remember it all.
I pick up the candle. It’s still very warm.
My dad had these big giant work boots that we used to walk around in when we were kids, like most kids do. In the Legislature, I never felt like I fit those boots. It never felt like it was mine. More like I was there to close a chapter for him, rather than start my own.
Those boots have always been so hard to fill. I think of all the things he was in his short life: a child, a spouse, a teacher, a counselor, a community leader, a first responder, an advocate for children.
The candle stays warm in my hands. But I am shaking.
I realize that I am all of those things now, in my own house. I am still my mother’s child. Tim’s wife. A teacher, counselor and first responder for my own children. And as I find my voice in advocating for my own children, I am helping others in my community speak for their children too.
I have become my father’s daughter. I have found my place.
I am alone with the candle. I can finally grieve.
And now, perhaps, move on.
“When the night has been too lonely
and the road has been too long
and you think that love is only
for the lucky and the strong
Just remember in the winter
far beneath the bitter snows
lies the seed
that with the sun’s love
in the spring
becomes the rose” – The Rose by Bette Midler