October is a tough month for me, not because of the coming fall with its crisp, cool air, or the kaleidoscope of colors displayed on the trees, or the first research project that heralds the return of the school year. My dad was killed in a car accident on Oct. 5, 1984. That’s 31 years ago, but sometimes it feels like it happened this morning.
It’s funny, being a human. We go through our days taking in a ton of information –- processing news clips, marketing advertisements, telephone conversations, music lyrics, stories from our kids, job assignments and our own racing thoughts – almost unaware of the marvel that is our complex brain. I can make dozens of decisions in a day, some with long-lasting impacts and consequences, and do it without breaking a sweat or second guessing the process.
I can cook dinner for my family, write a couple chapters in my book, like a few pictures on Facebook, attend a meeting at my kids’ school, but then heading home, I’ll see a sunset in the sky that reminds me of one of my father’s paintings, and the ache in my heart opens fresh, resulting in a wash of tears that my boys stare at in awe, each wondering, where in the world did that come from?
Thirty-one years ago, my life was irrevocably changed by the loss of this man everyone loved, a man who cooked pies that people drove miles to taste … who painted oils and watercolors that defined my childhood and still hang in my house today … who loved playing with his four girls and adored the wife who gave them to him … who served his country in the Marine Corps and the Air Force … and who served God with every breath he was given.
While I wish he were alive and could have seen me graduate from college, or walked me down the aisle at my wedding (my Mom did an incredible job of that!), or welcomed his first grandchild (my eldest son), I’ve found that for me, the best way to stem the flow of grief that can overwhelm me is to share the stories with my kids.
When those tears come out of nowhere, I tell them why. They know their grandpa was a painter. They see the evidence on the walls of our home. When they hear me proudly sing the Marine Corps hymn and see his sword mounted on the wall of our home, they know why.
They’ve heard me tell the story of how, as a child, I believed that anyone who drove around in their truck or car with their shirt off, drinking a Coke, was a bad person (don’t ask me where I came up with that one). My dad, totally willing to shatter his youngest daughter’s sacred cows, promptly bought a Coke and Snickers bar, peeled off his white T-shirt and drove our truck in circles around our yard while I watched in horrified fascination.
When I was training for my marathons, I told stories of how my dad loved to run and how he charged up hills, in true Marine Corps fashion, yelling, “Up the hill, over the hill, conquer the hill!” And how I mutter those words when charging up my own hills, albeit much slower than he would have.
They’ve met their grandpa through the stories and his paintings, through my tears, my laughter, and even the pain. October is a reminder of what happened 31 years ago, but every day is a reminder of a life well lived, a life worth sharing, and a life that lives on through the memories and stories.
Karin Leeburg Larsen of Puyallup works in Seattle and enjoys writing everything from novels to a cooking blog. She is one of six reader columnists whose work appears on this page. Email her at Klarsen265@gmail.com.