It’s been one year but still feels like yesterday and it’s still unbelievable. There is this gaping hole in my heart and in my life that leaves me wondering if this will ever get easier. I still struggle with the permanence of my Dad being gone. Just yesterday I thought he was driving his car right behind mine, and I thought, “oh hey there’s dad,” and then I break and realize all over again that he died. It’s been a year; you’d think I’d know that he’s not here anymore.
We have no choice but to move forward and live our daily lives, some days you just do the day to day minutia; for me it’s the duties of being a stay at home mom, looking after and loving on my 3 little children and keeping a happy home. Waking up to breakfast orders, dirty diapers, school prep, getting dressed whilst changing over the laundry and putting away the dishes. We hop in the car to drop my oldest 2 at preschool, and as we drive by a cemetery, which we pass every day on the way to school, my oldest says, “Momma, there are a lot of Bampies in there,” and I am completely stopped in my tracks.
How do I respond to that? She’s 4 years old, she’s made the connection that my Dad, her Bampie, has a place in a cemetery (not this particular one that we drive by on the daily), but nonetheless pretty intuitive that she’s drawn that connection. But before I can respond, my 3-year-old then replies, “No Norah, Bampie is in Heaven. Mom, when is Bampie coming back from Heaven? I miss him.” And I am shattered to pieces. Having to explain that Bampie isn’t coming back is a huge concept, not only for my preschoolers, but for me.
This happens more than my heart can handle. The kids will see an airplane up in the sky, or Heaven in their eyes, and sometimes they think that Bampie is on that plane and maybe he’ll be coming back on that one. And I have to explain again, that he’s staying up there in Heaven, and we’ll see him up there again someday.
How about, “What’s Heaven like, or what is Bampie doing up there?” That’s a tough one to explain too. In my heart of hearts, I know my Dad is the best version of himself up there. I was so lucky to have a dream sometime around his birthday and my Dad came to me looking all handsome, and mischievously said, “Pat, sshh, don’t tell anyone, but I am having a blast up here.” And that is so him, he knows there are so many of us down here sad that he’s gone, but after his struggle and sickness, it’s his turn to have some fun. It was so vivid; I know it’s true.
My Dad would be having fun. That’s they guy he is. He was able to find humor and happiness in almost anything. And that’s something he’s passed down to all of us. And now with the holidays approaching it’s so hard to keep smiling and to celebrate because there is this gut wrenching sadness because he’s not here. Seeing that empty seat at the Thanksgiving table is too much to bear. Last year was our first Thanksgiving without him, he died 4 days prior and his funeral was 2 days before Thanksgiving. So that particular holiday was a complete blur. We didn’t know what to do. Typically, we would sit around that table and toast one another, thankful for all the wonderful people and things in our lives. Year after year, we were thankful that Dad was sitting at the table with us because we knew that day would come that he wouldn’t be there. And last year it was it. But my Dad being my Dad, made his presence known, not only through the ladybugs, but as we were sitting down ready to pray or toast, the front door swung open, yet no one was there. And we all got a chuckle, Dad was showing up for dinner.
I want the holidays to be happy, he would want us to enjoy them and not focus on the sadness. And we will, we need to for all of the grandkids. But I know they all miss him too. So we will celebrate as best we can, I mean that’s what us Whelan’s do best. So it’s been a year, and we don’t know what this day will bring, all we do know is that we will be together, celebrating his life, maybe shedding some tears as we visit the cemetery or talk about the things we miss most, but as we talk about the things we miss most, those will be some of the happiest memories that he helped create, and we will continue to make those moments in his honor.
Speaking of his honor, and completely changing gears, just this week we received a video interview that my Dad had done just a couple weeks before he died. His last interview if you will, well it is his last formal interview. It’s 14 minutes long, his brilliant mind was so present regardless of how sick he was. Depending on who watches it you’ll find varying points of poignancy; he speaks to so many audiences. I broke at minute 7:23 when he voiced that which was his detriment. He knew it when he said it, and you’ll see the break in the video as that segment ends. He should still be alive.
It is so unfair that there was so much work left undone; we’ve been trying to figure out how to keep my Dad’s legacy alive and fighting, but truth be told, we weren’t in his shoes, and we don’t know how to fight his fight. There were so many avenues that he traveled down; speaking with other patients, showing up on the Hill tackling legislation, closely working with his doctors, speaking with pharmaceuticals and doing what he could to reach out to everyone in life sciences that were trying to save his life. As he closes in the video, he thanks these people.
Hearing his voice and seeing his face in this video was hard, so take caution if you chose to watch it. I’ll throw in a little NSFW (not safe for work) if you are tied to this gentle man and don’t want your peers to see you crying over your keyboard. And you may not cry, I actually didn’t. I haven’t cried all that much in the last 12 months. I don’t know why; grief is experienced differently.
I feel like the timing of this video and his anniversary has brought a new light on things that still need to be done, we just need help in figuring out how to keep his message alive. There are so many things we want to do to be right by my Dad, and the Jack Whelan Foundation is the route we want to go, we just don’t know where to go just yet because he was such an influence and advocate and spoke to so many audiences. And frankly it’s hard because he’s dead and we need his advice.
So often do we call on his advice. I know there are so many times that I’m stuck in a situation, be it frustrated, or not know what the next step should be, and in the past I would simply call or hang with my Dad, we’d chat about whatever was going on and I’d have the perspective I needed to move forward with whatever that situation was. Well come to find out, my family does the same, and we still struggle without his voice, but we have found that we can come to a place and think, well what would Dad say? He left that with us. And I hope that he can offer perspective to you too.
The holidays are here. Many of us are grieving our own losses, whether a loved one died last week, 3 and a half months ago, 2 years ago, or in the last century, all of our hearts still ache, but let’s take the holidays as a time to cherish them and open our hearts with gratitude for the life we shared with them. Don’t get me wrong, as I said earlier, I am devastated to see that empty seat at the table, but man isn’t it more fun to think of the person that made you laugh and warm your heart and just maybe walk through the door again to make you smile?
Coming back to my kids, they smile when they think of Bampie, in fact, they stick their tongues out at him because he would always say “Put that tongue away!” And they roared with laughter every time they did it when he was alive and they still do every time they send it up to Heaven. That is all he’d ever want. Happiness and laughter.
Miss you Dad, “happy” anniversary, keep having fun up there. With gratitude, thanks for reading and happy Thanksgiving. Keep smiling Dad.