Thirty nine years ago today, I had one of the worst experiences that changed me forever. I watched as my stepfather, the man that raised me as his own son, the man that taught me to laugh at life and not take it so seriously, passed away.
His death affected me greatly because a few hours before, he and I had an argument over something really silly, and although we did make up, he made me promise to do something to make up for the argument, which I promised to do the next day.
A few hours later he was dead on the floor of the bedroom from a massive heart attack. He was 54. Going to his funeral was one of the most horrible experiences I had. I stood there at his graveside, still in shock about his death, wondering if the argument I had with him was the cause of the heart attack, feeling guilty that I made a promise that I would never be able to keep, and being stunned back to reality with the sound of dirt hitting his coffin as it was shoveled into the hole.
As we drove away from the cemetery, the sunny day was suddenly replaced with dark, ominous clouds, that opened and let down a torrent of hard pelting water onto the car, sounding like pellets hitting the roof. All I could think was that it was my step father crying for us to come back and not leave him in that dark, wet hole alone.
That night I sat in my bed listening to the rain hitting the galvanized roof and worried that there he lay, in a six foot hole in the ground and it was filling with water. Was his coffin filled up? Was he dry? Was it water proof? Was the mud going to get so heavy that it would crush his coffin?
Through it all though, I never cried, not one single tear. I thought I needed to be strong for my mother, and for some reason I think I did not deserve to cry. It was my fault he was dead, and I made a promise that I would never be able to keep. And so, I never made another promise. In my wedding vows, when the priest said to me to repeat the words “I promise to be …”, I got so confused when I heard the word promise, that I said “I promise to promise …”
It took a week or two before my sadness overwhelmed me when I was in the ocean, and I just stayed in the water, waves crashing over me, and bawled like a baby for what seemed for hours, I just cried and cried, and couldn't stop for a very, very long time. When I did eventually stop, I got out of the water and dried off, the swelling and redness of my eyes easily passed off as a result of the salt water, and never cried again, a single tear for over twenty years.
I do allow myself to cry now, but the tears are slow to flow, and my eyes hurt. I think though that is a physical thing rather than an emotional one. I still don't make promises, and never ask anyone to promise me either. I did learn to never leave anyone angry, and I never, ever go out without kissing my wife and telling her I love her. And if we have an argument, we never leave each other's company without resolving the issue.
Today, 39 years after his passing, also a Thursday, I still miss him, and I know that he still looks in on me. I still do think of my stepfather often. Years ago I went to an “Angel reading”, where a medium communicated with people that passed over, and my stepfather came through to me, and told me some really great stuff that helped me to let go of the guilt I still felt about his death.
So today on the anniversary of his passing, I say thank you for everything dad, and thanking you for teaching me how to be the man that I am today. I love you.