February 16, 1996 (which was a Friday)

I don’t markedly observe death dates. I don’t feel ‘down’ or visit the cemetery; I don’t mention the fact to those who don’t already know. I think about the significance of the date, sure, but I like to keep my annual rituals happy – there’s already enough to be blue about in the world.

The only thing I do is draw little black curtains around the day on my calendars. It’s enough for me, and adds just the right touch of drama. Fitting.

But today is different. It is the 15th anniversary of my father’s death.

The memory of that Friday afternoon is vivid: I walked in the door after school, about the time of day that I write this now, thinking of the plans I’d made with friends to go see Mr. Holland’s Opus. My mother appeared from somewhere almost immediately, and spoke to me like an adult. In my mind, she said something like, ‘Well, your daddy just went to Heaven.’ I missed it by seven minutes. I wasn’t surprised – Hospice had been in our home for weeks. More than anything Dad’s passing was a relief… the signal to stop waiting, and start grieving.

I cried for a few minutes, and then washed the dishes. Mom was amazingly calm. People came and went, including my younger sister, who today can give astounding insight into the mind of a grief-stricken 10 year old. My strongest emotion was refusal to see the body. I could wait until the visitations, thank you. I dealt with the situation at hand, and went to see the movie.

There’s really nothing so special about this particular anniversary in and of itself – it doesn’t indicate any change in anyone’s life, and the number 15 doesn’t carry some special meaning for the death of a man my dad’s age and heritage (that I know of).

However, I can’t help but think a little harder about this one. See, I was 15 years old in February of 1996, which means that I’ve now lived half of my life without a father. Huh.

It sucks, of course. Still, there’s another part of me that kind of goes, ‘Well, that’s done then. One down, one to go.’

That might sound callous, and in part, it probably is. 15 years and regular life give you the time and tools you need to toughen up. I’ve grown up and made a life of my own that Dad would barely recognize. I don’t feel the loss of him everyday (at least, not with pain), perhaps because he was never a component of my adult life. My world at 15 was very different from my world now, and a happy fatherless woman is simply who I am. Perhaps a part of me knew even then that the bulk of my life would not be hindered by that tragedy.

Going further, the death of one of my parents, and the one who made the money at that, taught me a lot and made me stronger. Yeah, maybe I’m a little paranoid and obsessive when it comes to death and my own mortality, but I’m also better at life. I know how to balance a budget. I know how to live comfortably on a tight budget. I’m self-reliant. And I talk to my husband about what we’d do if one of us died tomorrow.

Being good at life is also enjoying and valuing it. My dad spent a lot of time working, and not enough time playing and taking care of himself. As much as I appreciate how hard he worked (truly – he kicked ass), I’m certain that his lifestyle contributed to his cancerous demise at the age of (only) 50. Because of his example, and my genes, I take very seriously my own health and that of those I love, and try not to let it ruin the fun. Balance is key.

So today is a death date that I’m recognizing out loud. It’s a milestone for me, and a way to explain why I am the way I am. I wish I had come this far and been able to keep my dad too, but I wouldn’t trade anything. The death of a loved one makes us who we are.

And I think about him every day.

10 Comments

Filed under AutoBio, Death etc..

10 Responses to February 16, 1996 (which was a Friday)

  1. I love your straight forward attitude towards a terrible lesson everyone will learn. My Father was just 36, and I only 20 months when he died of a heart attack, (Brought on by the stress of his work, no doubt!) It happened on Memorial Day, 1958… Hard not to remember the anniversary due to the date. I have now lived more than 25 times longer without him than with him. Being Irish, he did not believe in Life Insurance… its a man’s job to take care of his family. Thank God his employer was not Irish, and had purchased a sizable policy for him! My mother, widowed at 36 with 5 children was comfortable, and took good of us because of the financial wind fall. She went to her grave 45 years later, loving only him. She was a widow 3 times longer than she was a bride. Thanks for sharing Katie.

    • Katie Reilly Mitchell

      Thanks Liam – Even though your mother is no longer living, my heart goes out to her. I can’t imagine what she must have gone through. I’m sure it taught you a lot about a lot. I appreciate you sharing your family’s story!

  2. Sara

    I remember the day your father died. Lindsey called me crying. She was so upset because she had called you and started happily telling you about movie plans when you somberly broke the news. She was so sure you were hurt or angry because of it. I, of course, was just coming down with the worst fever I have ever had. To this day I carry a little guilt about not being there for you. But I’m glad that I’ve been there for you for everything afterward.

    I remember very little of Mike, but we’ve bonded so much over our love of cemeteries and interest in the Great Hereafter, that I don’t think I could trade the experience. I love you, Katie Beth!

    • Katie Reilly Mitchell

      Thank you darling! I know you felt bed, but I totally understood. You were crazy sick! And yes, you’ve been there for a lot since:) Love you too!!!

  3. Joni Clegg

    Well said Katie. I remember the point when I had lived longer without my dad than I had lived with him. I also remember the point in my life where I became older than he was when he died at 43. He is the permanent chink in my heart whether I am facing the good or the bad. I generally choose to celebrate his birthday rather than his death.

    • Katie Reilly Mitchell

      Hi Joni! Yeah, you know all about this. 43 sounds so YOUNG!! Too young. I do prefer to celebrate the birthdays… It was so odd in November when he would have been 65. But, it’s nice to try to imagine what he would have been like too:) Thanks for reading and commenting!

  4. Jen

    This was a beautiful post and gives me a whole new in site into you. Thank you for sharing this and put it out there.

    • Katie Reilly Mitchell

      Thanks Jen. I did enjoy (for lack of a better word) writing it, and it does explain a lot… I appreciate you reading it:)

  5. Marie willis

    well this puts a closurer on things for me, as I had no idea of his being sick etc, we lost track of each other when he got divorced(infact it was my last visit w/him) We got along pretty good for the little we saw each other. Yes, in his fathers family a lot of colon cancer in fact my mother was a survivor as was uncle Peter. Lung cancer got them. It is so good to hear what a good father he was. love and respect , cousin Marie

    • Katie Reilly Mitchell

      Hi Marie – I’m glad you got a chance to read this:) It’s too bad that you and Dad lost touch after his divorce, but I can tell you that in the years before he got sick, he was a wonderful father, and pillar of the community. Even though his hard work and less-than-perfectly-healthy lifestyle caused him trouble, he accomplished so much, and touched many lives. He made my sister and myself proud to be Reillys:)

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