Today marks 25 years since my dad died.
25 years. As recently as four years ago, I wouldn’t have expected this day to hit me this hard. I knew it would hurt, and that I’d miss him. But, growing up, the big milestones and celebratory days were no more full of memories and pain as every other day. My biggest moments of grief typically popped up from nowhere, when I was least expecting it.
Oh, you’re driving to netball training right now? SURPRISE! Here’s a powerful dad memory to kick you right in the gut so you start hyperventilating and have to pull over on the freeway!
But the last few years, the anniversary has hurt. Physically, sometimes, like that kick in the gut above. And the number 25 is making it worse. That’s the kind of anniversary that, when it relates to happier happenings, attracts balloons and cake and people singing your praises. Smiles and kisses, in-jokes and joviality, joy and contentment.
How to mark it appropriately? How to feel sad and miss him while thinking of long ago happier happenings and singing his praises?
Dad used to sit down with me to listen to his favourite albums. We’d discuss the musical choices made and try to recreate some of the sounds. Eric Clapton’s MTV Unplugged quickly became one of his favourites, and we had more than one sit-down session for it.
Dad described Clapton as ‘not the world’s best singer’ who had nonetheless created a collection of incredible music, a collection that you felt more and more connected to as the album progressed. Dad marvelled at Clapton’s guitar playing. He laughed at Clapton’s bungled start to Alberta. He wavered between loving Clapton’s stripped-back Layla and believing you should never mess with a classic. (He landed on loving it.)
And he paused the album after Tears in Heaven to say that he didn’t understand how Clapton could sing it. He understood that writing it would have been cathartic. But actually performing it? Singing those words with memories of his son in his head? He was in awe. And I echoed those thoughts. How could Clapton sing it?
We played Tears in Heaven at dad’s funeral. (It was one of the moments that made it real for me, rather than a hazy fog of ceremony and words and people-too-many-people-who-are-all-these-people.) And I’ve since performed it. I always tear up, but I can sing it. So I thought I had an answer for dad if we should ever happen to meet again.
But I don’t have an answer. Because this anniversary, I’ve started writing a song. A song about my dad, or more specifically about the absence of my dad, and the number 25.
And I can’t sing it.
For now, I will just share part of it. Because the rest is too, too much today.
Now I’ve lived 25 years without you, and I’ve never been the same
Your grandson looks just like you, though you never knew his name
When I close my eyes I see you, as a picture in a frame
25 years without you… and I’ll never be the same
Dad, I will finish this song. And one day, I will sing it for you.
For now, know that I’m thinking about you, today and always.