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.