This past Christmas, we surprised the grandparents with the announcement of a new baby on the way.
I came up with the idea of sharing the news via personalized mugs, each containing an ultrasound photo. I bought the mugs, and I printed the photos. I carefully wrapped each mug in colourful Christmas cheer, and presented it to each of them on Christmas Day.
It went off without a hitch.
There was joy, and there were tears.
There were only three mugs.
Five years ago today, my father passed away. It’s been 1,826 days, and I still don’t talk about him much. I’ve written more words down than I’ve ever said aloud, and that suits me just fine.
I still think about him, though.
Mostly, I think about what he’s missed, what he’s missing, and what he will continue to miss as my life — and all of our lives — continue on. I think about my anger surrounding his illness and death, and yes, I still curse to high hell the grief that just never seems to subside.
As I lined up those three mugs on Christmas Day, I felt robbed and empty and gutted, but nobody could know. Especially not my mother, whose solitary Nana mug stood bravely in obvious isolation to those of her co-grandparent counterparts.
Robbed because he’ll never get to meet my sons.
Empty because he never got to see me become a mom.
Gutted because I know he would have loved my kids more than anything in this world, and he never got the chance.
But when I became a mom, I spent some time reflecting on being a part of the Dead Dads Club as a parent. Here are my top three pieces of advice to fellow club members with little ones, or little ones on the way:
1. Stop feeling let down by good things.
Creatively revealing my pregnancy to my mother and in-laws over the holidays should have been fun, but it just ended up feeling insincere and forced. I felt like a giant, phony ball of excitement as I plastered on a fake smile, waiting for their reaction. I was too focused on who wasn’t there, and not focused enough on who was. I ignored their joy, and focused on my misery instead. So if you’re standing where I am right now, stop looking through each one of life’s milestones with grief coloured glasses. You can’t go back. You can only keep living your life. The good things — I mean the really good things — don’t come around very often. Cherish them.
2. It’s okay to feel cheated.
I hate that my dad never got to see me become a mom, but what hurts even more is my sons won’t grow up to know him. I got 29 years with him, but all they’ll get are faded photographs and grainy, 80s-era home movies. But that’s life, and life isn’t fair. It’s a sobering reminder, and it’s helped me to appreciate what I do have a lot more. Yes, I’ve been robbed. But I’ve also been blessed. See #3.
3. Remember that they’re still here, in a way.
Though I’ll never again hear his voice, see his face, or surprise him at the holidays, my dad is still here, in a way. I get to see him every day. No, he didn’t get a mug this past Christmas — but he got something that nobody else did. Something infinitely more valuable.
He got his smile.
And nobody — even death — can take that away from him.