Friday, April 27, 2007

Eight Years, Part II

I don't remember waking up on the morning of April 27, 1999. I don't remember getting dressed, or driving to class, or attending classes. I don't remember who I spoke to or what I said. I don't even remember what I thought about. Maybe I didn't think about anything.

I do remember deciding to leave at lunchtime. My schedule that year had an optional fifth period - sometimes I stayed for lunch and attended the class, and sometimes I left at lunch. On that Tuesday, I was feeling tired, and opted to go home and nap.

When I got home, the house was empty. I went to my dad's room (where I often slept in those days), turned on the TV (to "All My Children"), and climbed into bed. I was only there for about ten minutes, sort of drowsily watching the show, when I heard the front door open and close and my mom call my name.

I let her know I was in the bedroom, and she walked through the doorway, followed by my sister, looking down. My mom looked at me and said, "We went to the school to find you..."

I knew. Right then. It had already been established that if anything happened to Dad while I was at school, my mom would come and get me to tell me. So I knew what "We went to the school to find you..." meant.

"Oh," I said.

She told me he'd passed pretty peacefully that morning, and that my uncle (his brother) had been with him at the time. I cried, of course - tears that stemmed from an injustice I had long known was coming.

Sixteen years old, and my father was dead.


I don't remember most of the rest of the night. I only remember that I called Stephanie - my best friend at school - and told her. I didn't really tell her to get support or anything, but rather to have her spread the news to other friends. I didn't want to have to deal with telling people. I didn't want to see people and have them ask me how he was doing only to have to have that awkward pause while I struggled to come up with something more sensitive than, "He died. So... not well."

I opted not to go to school the next day, because I knew that all the homeroom teachers would have to make the announcement to their classes that Mr. D. - Coach D., Athletic Director D. - had died. And I really didn't feel like sitting in AP US History while my teacher told my classmates that a beloved teacher had died and, oh, by the way, he also happened to be Lara's dad. I stayed home and slept in.

But I did go to my track meet that afternoon, and compete in my event (discus). My mom was there, and my grandfather came to see me too. I won second place. I barely remember it.


The funeral was Saturday, May 1. I wore a gray dress with black flowers, and I still own that dress for no other reason than the fact that it was the dress I wore to Dad's funeral. It was my first time riding in a limo, that ride to the church. I went into the church early, because I would be singing during the procession. As my father was brought into the church by 8 scholar athletes from the school - 4 boys and 4 girls, hand-picked ahead of time by my dad himself - I sang:

Be not afraid - I go before you always
Come, follow me
And I will give you rest.

After the song, I joined my mom and sister in the first pew, for the funeral mass. The church could comfortably seat a little over 800 people, but every spare inch was covered with people standing to watch. I heard later people were spilling out the doors and listening from the steps outside. There were over a thousand there to honor him.

I sat quietly through most of the ceremony, watching and listening, but not feeling much. And then, near the end, my sister - barely 20 years old - stood up and walked to the podium. And in that place where we'd grown up, where we'd sat so many Sundays with Dad, she stood and gave his eulogy. That was when I cried.

I remember standing silently beside my mom and sister as the guests left the church. So many came to offer their condolences, to give hugs and mix tears with ours. Some were people I'd known all my life, and yet, at that moment, I couldn't have named a single one of them. I was only barely there anyway.

After the ceremony, we went to a reception, hosted at a friend's house. The only thing I remember of that reception was sitting with a plate of fruit on my lap, with my friend Mark on one side of me and Stephanie on the other, and watching all the guests talking. I don't know who brought me the plate of fruit, or who led me to sit down, and I don't know if Stephanie and Mark tried to talk to me or not. I just know I sat there, and watched everyone around me, and felt completely empty, blank, and numb.


Life went on, of course. Two weeks later I took AP tests. Two weeks after that, the SATs. And then it was summer, and I worked two jobs, and then it was senior year and I had classes and extracurriculars and a future to plan. It was many months before I let myself think about what had happened.

The spring pep rally of my senior year just happened to fall on April 27, 2000. I agreed to give a very brief speech to commemorate Dad's passing, in front of the entire school, at an event that traditionally garners student respect about as well as a teacher with her fly down.

When the day came, I was very nervous, but I believed he had mattered enough to the school to deserve this gesture of respect. And so I stood there, and I told them about my dad.

I emphasized how much he had done for the school, especially the athletics programs. I reminded them all of how supportive he had been of every single student athlete, and how much he had encouraged a proper balance between athletics and academics. I called to mind the love of so many students, past and present, for this man who had led them towards a better future in some way. And I asked for a moment of silence.

And it was silent.

I don't believe I had ever heard every student in my school sit silently before, and I never have since. And when I thanked them, they cheered - not for me, but for him.


As I said, life went on - it goes on still. It's now been eight years, and life continues in spite of the grief. I considered doing a series of posts, detailing that time, and my feelings. A week or more I thought I might spend writing this story. But in the end, I realized that would be a waste. Not because he's not worth that kind of tribute, but because he wouldn't want me to take that much time out of my life to dwell on it. I have other things to do now, and while I carry his memory with me through it all, I'm not disabled by it. I will write other posts on the days I might have spent on him - posts about who I've become, and what I'm doing, and where I'm going in the future (see my upcoming Blog Exchange post for that one). Because that's what he would have wanted: for me to go on and live a life in spite of what I lost.

But I do love him. And I do miss him. And so for a little while, I will take time to remember.


Her Bad Mother said...

Dear, dear Lara. This post made me cry - and as it appens I am sitting in an exam hall, invigilating the final exam for my third year philosophy students. Who think that I am marking their papers, and who are now very worried.

But I digress. This is beautiful. ((()))

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post Lara. Thank you for sharing it.

tpiglette said...

"The Lord bless you and keep you..."

Thanks for sharing your dad with those of us who never had the privilege of knowing him.

Love you.

Amanda said...

Your words really trnsported me to another place, another time. Thank you for sharing them, I only wish there were more that I could say or do. So, again, just thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing. I can't imagine what it must have been like. I have not yet lost a parent, and I dread the day that I do. I'm not quite sure how I will handle it.

CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

Actually, I think you will take more than a "little while" to remember your dad. I think you will take a lifetime--and more.

Angela said...

That is a beautiful post. He sounds like a great man, and I'm glad you told us about him.

Wolf Lover Girl said...

It's hard to form any words as I sit here and cry. How very courageous of you to get up a year later and talk in front of the school.

~ Wolf Lover Girl

Anonymous said...

I love you.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I keep trying to put myself in your place, and I struggle.

You are a truly brave.

Your Dad sounds like a lovely man. I am glad that you and I have become blog friends, you have shared a truly beautiful man with me.


Anonymous said...

Your post brought tears to my eyes in empathy for your still painful loss and because you told your story so achingly beautifully. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Oh chook, I just sat here reading with tears coming down my cheeks - you write so beautifully and the way you honour your dad, I know he'd be so proud of you.

I still can't even begin to imagine how hard it must be to lose a parent. And really, what words are there to make it okay? But I just want you to know that you're a really amazing person. Don't stop writing.

IMC Guy said...

Your dad sounds like quite the guy. One who certainly raised quite a girl.

Juka said...

I wish I'd known your dad. I think we would have gotten along.

Juka said...

I wish I'd known your dad. I think we would have gotten along.

Dallas Blue said...

your dad and my mom can hang out and talk about how cool we are.

don't you think?

i love you!

jittacatgirl said...

take all the time you need, sweetheart.

Anonymous said...

That was a wonderful post and a great tribute to your dad. I started crying halfway through but at the end I felt as if I'd known him, and I wish I had.

I wish he could have seen what a wonderful daughter he had raised.

Unknown said...

May you find comfort in the words that you right.
You are brave and strong.

Anonymous said...

A beautifully written tribute. Thank you.

Dee said...

That was absolutely beautiful. For a moment I felt as though I was there with the 16-year-old you. Thank you for sharing such in intimate moment in you life. What a fabulous tribute to your dad and his memory.

I only wish I could be there to give you a hug in person.

Lara said...

to everyone - thank you so, so much. your kindness, and support, and encouragement mean so much to me. i love this community so much.

her bad mother - i feel sorry for your students, but i appreciate your sharing with me.

aimee - *hugs* right back at you.

tpiglette - i love you too. thank you for sharing my dad with me as much as you can.

amanda - thank *you* for reading.

betsy - you'll handle it as best you can, just like i did. appreciate the time you have until then, because every moment is precious.

CTG - it's true. i remember every single day.

angela - he was. a GREAT man. i wish i'd realized that more when he was alive.

wolf lover girl - it did take courage, but it was also good for me. and i felt he deserved it.

seeser - i love you too. very, very much.

franz - yes. sigh indeed. you were already gone by the time he died, but you were around enough to know the impact he had.

lala - i'm glad we're blog friends too. and i'm glad you were willing to share with me.

organic mama - thanks for stopping by, and thank you for your words. they were much appreciated.

aly - you're right, of course. there are no words. but i appreciate your being here for me... in a virtual sense, anyway.

IMC guy - yes, quite a guy indeed. and yes, he did some good raising, too.

justin - i think so too. i often wish you could've known him.

sassy - i think that's a great idea. 'cause we are pretty awesome. :) and i love you back.

jitta - thanks, dear. you do the same, okay?

r u serious? - there are lots of things i wish he had lived to see: my graduation from high school, my graduation from stanford, my becoming a teacher. but i comfort myself that he has seen all those things. he just wasn't here with me to see them.

tori - in a way, i do find comfort in the writing. that's why it's here.

pistol pete - thank *you* for reading it.

dee - well, since you can't be here in person, i'll settle for the virtual hugs. thanks, dear. :)

Teacher Anonymous said...

I'm biting my cheek just to keep from crying. Hugs.

Major Bedhead said...

That was a beautiful post, Lara.

Lara said...

teacher anonymous - don't bite too hard! thanks for the hugs. :)

major bedhead - thank you so much, dear. :)

Amy said...

Lara, my father also died of colon cancer. I was 33 and I can't imagine what it must have been for you at 16.

I'm both sorry and glad we are part of this sad sorority. I'm glad we're exchanging posts this weekend.

Peace to you.