An illustration of a side profile of a man looking over his shoulder

I still feel too young to have lost my father. He passed away two years ago, I was 31, and I think no matter what age we are when losing a parent, it never feels like we’re adult enough to manage it. 

One of the sweetest gestures I’ve received since my dad died was a text from my aunt on my first Father’s Day without him. She acknowledged that I now have a day that is filled with some heaviness along with celebration and reverence. A day where my lack is punctuated, even if ever so slightly.

My dad and I had ups and downs. My parents divorced when I was 6, and now with hindsight and a more mature mindset, I can see how hard that was for him. I can see how he struggled with so many inner conflicts, feelings and hurts—like all of us. Because of the divorce, I got to receive the great honor of knowing him, truly knowing him. I got to see the context of his life up close, which I may otherwise have missed had he remarried quickly.

I saw a lot of the inner-workings. We weathered moves, relationships and mistakes together very openly. I saw him through a lot of hardship, as he did me. We created some heartache for each other as well. It took me a long time to realize that some of the pain I had was a result of my limited life experience, and his often callous response was a response to too much hard life experience. 

I saw him through a lot of hardship, as he did me.

As my dad was in his final weeks of life, we knew there was limited time. We had known all along his journey with cancer that the final stage was coming. He was diagnosed with stage four melanoma six weeks before my wedding, and he had to undergo brain radiation just three weeks before walking me down the aisle. We weren’t even sure he’d be able to do that. They gave him about three years to live and that’s exactly what we got. 

We worked really hard in those three years to repair any resentment and create closure for any open wounds. I confessed my deepest regrets as a daughter, like the time I wouldn’t ride in his horse-drawn wagon in our town’s apple blossom parade. He told me I didn’t need to be forgiven because he harbored no hurt about it. Yet, I needed to forgive myself. 

I got to be there when my father took his last breath. Sitting beside him in the cabin in Montana that he dreamed about for decades. It was the capstone event to being the grateful witness I was to his life. 

As Father’s Day nears, I think about him more. I find ways to celebrate him, some of which he had the foresight to create for me. If you’ve lost a father, or are in the midst of that journey, then I have hope for you. There is healing, there is love. 

If you’ve lost a father, or are in the midst of that journey, then I have hope for you.

To celebrate my late father on Father’s Day, here is what I do: 

I make his favorite food.

My dad has this great chili recipe that wows everyone. It’s one of the only recipes that I have memorized because I’ve made it so many times. On his day of passing and on Father’s Day, I like to make it and fill the house up with that familiar smell. 

I wear his hat.

My dad was a cowboy, and cowboys always wear hats. I got to keep a few of his, but there’s one I wear on a regular basis that always makes me feel like he’s right there with me. 

I listen.

My dad did this wonderful thing once he knew his time was cut short. He made voice memos for me. He recounts some of his favorite and famous stories, some that I’d heard a million times and some that were totally new. Hearing his voice, how he pronounces certain words and the way he accentuates certain moments brings him right back into the room with me. This is by far one of the most exceptional gifts I have received. 

I read his obituary.

Being the writer that I am, I got to pen my father’s obituary. It was another great honor that I had, and each year, it’s nice to be reminded of his life at a glance. Reading about him and telling my kids about him helps to keep his legacy alive. 

I had some time with my father while he was sick, to plan and make peace. If you are in this season of life, then I hope that you’ll make an effort to do the same. When my dad died, we both could say we had no father daughter regrets.

I wrote him a letter about what he meant to me, and I read it aloud to him. We both cried. We did a lot of walks and talks about life plans and what he wanted for the family. A lot of our conversations were uncomfortable or even nerve-wracking. In the little time I had left, I didn’t want anything to create a rift between us. Yet, the vulnerable conversations led to the healing, the biggest love and the most pure acceptance of who we each are and were. 

Happy Father’s Day to those who get to remember a wonderful father, like I can. The depth of our sadness mirrors the depth of our love. 

How do you navigate the ups and downs of a relationship with a parent? How do you celebrate those memories on Father’s Day?

Image via Katherine Fraser, Darling Issue No. 21

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  1. I’ve been crying all day about my dad, Jose, who in January of cancer. I was with him almost the whole day before he died. I held his hand for the last 7 hours and hear him take his last breath. I miss him deeply. Thank you for your piece. Peace & joy to you.

    1. Sandra, we are sorry for your loss. We’re so glad this story resonated with you.

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