61 Years

(photo by David Wittig & Nancy Beale)

Today would have been my father’s 61st birthday…and the first June 12th of my lifetime that I can’t call him on the phone to wish him a happy birthday, that I can’t drive over to give him a hug, take him out to lunch or celebrate with him like we always did. My own birthdays have not been particularly important once I passed the 21 year mark but each of my Daddy’s birthdays was an opportunity to celebrate. Last year we threw a party to celebrate 60…which was already a decade of what felt like borrowed time. After 10 years of living with and being successfully treated for Multiple Myeloma (a rare blood cancer), last October my father was also diagnosed with AML leukemia and just 3 months later died with my sister and I at his side. Just the three of us, quietly, peacefully enjoying each other’s company…singing the songs to him that he sang to us as children.

The days, weeks and months since January 18th have been passing slowly as I get used to my new reality. Someone told me that losing a parent is like losing an arm or a leg. You can get used to living without it and it will even get easier with time, but you’ll always know that there’s a gaping hole where it used to be. I’ve found that to be quite accurate. Some days are harder than others. Today I felt inspired to finally write this blog post that has been too hard to write for so long.

There’s something interesting that happens to you when you lose a parent. You really start to think consciously about the things that they taught you and reflect upon how those lessons continue to affect your life day after day. My father was probably the most generous person I’ve ever met in my lifetime. He took great care to remember and acknowledge birthdays and important dates. He loved Christmas and he loved buying and watching us open tons of presents, even when we only wanted to play with the boxes they came in. He loved to teach us things. He built my sister and I a workshop in our basement when we were little and we both had tool sets where we liked to nail blocks of wood together with tiny hammers. He took flying lessons. He was an avid skydiver. He tried teaching me about lift and about molecular particles when I was 6. He helped me with science projects which were always far too complicated for my age. He took me on roller coasters even though he hated them. He was the only one who could help me with math homework after a certain age. He helped me with all of my computer problems which were many. In fact, he helped everyone he ever knew with their computer problems as well. When he had the money, he was always the one to buy a round of drinks for strangers, send flowers to friends, and never expected anything in return. Because he was that generous. The reward for him was in knowing that he affected someone else’s happiness.

I don’t particularly remember my father teaching me lessons with words. He never actually said “be kind” or “be generous”. But he taught me that these things were important by doing them, by living the way he lived. In the last weeks of his life, I wrote my Daddy a letter and read it to him aloud. When it became obvious that the treatment was not working, I came to a point when I felt I needed to let him off the hook. I needed to tell him what he had taught me and that I would be okay if he needed to go. I promised him that I would try every day to be kind to people. We held each other and cried together. I think that was all he needed to hear. Within 2 weeks he was gone. But his legacy lives on through his daughters and through his friends. And today on his would be birthday, I am grateful for the 33 years I had with him. He saw me grow up, graduate from high school, graduate from college. He walked me down the aisle on my wedding day, danced with me. Obsessively grandparented my dogs. And he even got to see my new studio space even if he never got to see it finished. He is still a part of my daily life and the best reminder of how I want to live my life.

Happy birthday Daddy. I love you and I miss you.

14 Responses to “61 Years”

  1. Tod says:

    What a beautiful, touching tribute to your Dad and to the love he had for you, and the legacy he left you and your sister!

  2. Elizabeth Ippolito says:

    Thanks for sharing Justine. Keeping you in our prayers. XO

  3. Justine. I love you. What a brave and beautiful way to honor him today. My heart aches for you but I am so glad you took the time to tell him all you wanted him to hear. It is so very important and most people let the days slip by without saying all that needs to be said. What a great gift and reminder to all of us. xoxo

  4. Terra says:

    You’re father was an amazing man. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. <3

  5. Hannah Skye says:

    What a beautiful tribute to your father. Thank you so much for sharing.

  6. Rob Greer says:

    Tear evoking. Touching. Beautiful.


  7. Tim says:

    Heart goes out to you Justine. Today is my Mom’s birthday too. She passed away at the age of 54 from breast cancer. You’ve tearfully and joyfully reminded me of all that she taught me, brother and sister. God bless you and your father.

  8. Lynn Makris says:

    Justine, How beautifully written this tribute to your father is. It is filled with love and respect and admiration…which everything imaginable a parent really wants from a child. You do him proud!

  9. erin says:

    beautiful justine. sending love & hugs your way and knowing that your Dad is smiling down on the wonderful woman that you are AND all the ways that you continue to teach the world the tremendous lessons that he taught you. xxoo

  10. Justine i totally understand and can relate to your sentiments…Your Dad was a wonderful role model…God bless my friend.

  11. kris rupp says:

    beautifully written.

  12. Heather says:

    This is so beautifully written. I am sure your father is proud of you!

  13. margie says:

    Dear Justine, Your tribute to your Dad made me cry. It also made me smile just thinking of him.
    He gave me a wonderful gift. You, my precious daughter-in-law. I love you.

  14. Keats says:

    I loved that you said — I don’t remember him ever saying the words — but I learned what was important by watching the way he lived his life. You are an amazing spirit in the world and I’m sure he is so very very proud of you!

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