My dad died tragically and unexpectedly just before my twenty-first birthday. We were very close and his absence became even more painful when I entered motherhood. I will forever daydream about how much he would have enjoyed being a grandfather. I imagine him clearly, playing on the floor with my son and calling him a “turkey,” getting such a kick out of never having a boy of his own but now having four grandsons, how he’d love sharing his passion for vintage muscle cars with all of them, and how he’d beam with pride while showing them his workroom full of tools and gadgets. My husband and my son (and another son on the way) never got to meet my dad. But because his role in my life while he was alive and after his death played such an enormous part in shaping who I am, it’s vital that I bring him to life through sharing memories that I hold so dear.
As my kids grow up, they’ll come to understand more about my dad, but for now, I have a few treasured photos that I keep framed and I make a point of showing them to my son often. I tell him, “This is Grandpa Dale.” I want his face to be familiar to my son, as it is to me. My dad was active-duty in the USMC when he died, so I have a veteran burial flag displayed in a flag box on a book shelf in our living room. My son likes to point out all of the stars. My dad was an amazing engineer and I have one of his designs of a dragster car framed on a main wall in our home. My sister used one of our dad’s old flannel shirts to make my son a little bear soother that we kept in his crib when he was a baby (so special!). I try to keep memorabilia and keepsakes peppered throughout our home, so that in a way, he’s always with us.
As my children grow up, I’ll share all of my stories with them. I’ll pass down to them the collection of fossil shark teeth and arrow heads that my dad gave to me when I was a little girl. My husband will teach them how to fix things with some of my dads tools, all of which still bear the initials D.F.R. And they’ll grow up, as I did, knowing all the words to the best Beatles songs, the importance of hard work, and what “Semper fidelis” means.
None of this will come close to filling the void, but it’s how I honor my dad and my memories of him. The more I share him with my family, the sharper my image of him remains. It can be painful to be reminded of those we’re missing from our lives. I know many of the stories I have to tell someday will come with tears, but I consider it part of my healing. Sometimes the most important stories are the hardest to tell.
I’d love to know if/how do you share memories of loved ones you’ve lost with your children. What are your favorite ways to keep the memories alive?