Coping with the death of a parent I hardly knew

They say our loved ones live on in our memories.

Or in the words of poet Thomas Campbell, “To live in hearts we leave behind. Is not to die.”

When grief wraps its spindly fingers around our hearts, we overcome by turning to recollections of our time together.

What do you do, though, when the pool of memories is slight, and the pool of disappointments runneth over?

When my dad died Tuesday at 2:44 p.m. Texas time, so did the fantasies I’ve been clutching for three decades.

It doesn’t feel like I lost a parent, it feels like I lost someone I’ve been longing to know — someone who looks just like me.

I’ve met my dad five times — six if you count our first reunion when I was 6 years old.

When I look back on those encounters, it’s not bliss that overwhelms me.

Nervous excitement ran through my veins the first time I met him when I was a little girl. It was at a gas station in Albuquerque. He bent down and gave me a hug. I remember his boots and jeans and jacket, but not his face. I remember the tears that followed after about two weeks, when he disappeared once again.

Anger seized me 13 years later when I saw his deep blue, discomforted eyes at an airport outside of Marshall, Texas. Sadness and frustration enveloped me when I said goodbye — sadness, because I wasn’t sure if I’d see this man again; and frustration because our time together had washed away the ire I wanted so badly to cling to.

Thus was the circle of emotions that came with each visit. It was a grueling vortex of sentiments — one I don’t particularly want to turn to in this time of grief.

For me my dad won’t live on through joyful memories, but through regret. I regret not knowing each other better, not having a seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th visit; but I also know I did my best. And, somehow, I can also sense his remorse. I saw it in his eyes. I heard it in his jokes. And more recently, I read it in the comments he left on my Facebook page.

Some, in efforts to console me, have said he’s watching me from above now. I wish I could believe that, but why would he start guarding me now?

No, I won’t find comfort in memories or thoughts of his watchful spirit. True relief lays in forgiveness. His abandonment will always sting. But I feel no resentment, no fury. I’m thankful to have met him, and by meeting him to have met my two half sisters. I’m thankful they were kind enough to hold the phone up to his ear for me in his final hours, so I could finally say, I love you.