My father would be turning 62 today (July 12). We would be ribbing him on his age, his inability to finish projects on time, and laughing at his ridiculously corny jokes. There would be chocolate cake, Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream, and Diet Dr. Pepper. In an alternate universe, Dad would probably still be teaching high school history, geography, and, begrudgingly, economics, and sharing his passion with anyone who would listen. Riding in his truck, you would hear the likes of ZZ Top, Alison Krauss, or some other genuinely authentic musician that pleased his eclectic palate.
“Quick! Who is this?” He’d ask you, trying to trip you up.
“The Beatles!” You’d reply, smug in your answer, ready for praise.
“Close…George Harrison. He did a solo album in 1970. Excellent musician. Good guess, though!”
In a different dimension, Billy Jack would give support to his wife in her new business venture along with her sister and daughter. He would still bring her flowers monthly, a small visual token of his love for her. He’d help his daughter move her classroom each year, proud that she’d joined the education profession. His niece and nephew would be his pride and joy, and he’d love being their uncle.
All of these things would happen were we living on another plane of existence; unfortunately, we live in reality. In reality, my Father, Billy Jack Knowles (B.J. as he was known to most), died 3 years ago, May 10th. Alzheimer’s disease took my 58 year old Dad (I am not going to go into how crushing of a loss it was watching my Dad slowly deteriorate before my eyes for seven plus years; that’s a post for another day.) and, as dramatic as this sounds, on that day another chamber of my heart was shattered, not to be healed by any earthly means. My heart has been broken many times, you see, in a variety of ways: love, divorce, loss of friendship, betrayal. The worst heartache, though, is grief. It’s the worst because there is this sinking, bottomless feeling of emptiness due to the fact that you’ll never see that person again. Never hear them speak again. They’ll never hug you, tell you a joke, kiss your forehead or let you know how proud of you they are again. It’s truly the worst.
My family has the unfortunate experience of knowing what grief is like. Over the past decade we’ve had a series of losses, hurts, and illnesses. We’ve suffered some heavy hardships. Through this, we’ve gained perspective. Stressful tasks that once seemed formidable, pale in comparison to burying one’s husband, brother, son. The truth is, there is no “grieving process” that is a linear, clean-cut checklist. The process is ugly and messy, like a tangled ball of yarn, knotted and complicated. Feelings are triggered by the smallest thing, a song on the radio, a commercial, an expression on someone’s face that looks strikingly similar to that person, a corny joke.
I grieve for my father. I grieve for the years he lost when he was alive. The years he spent in the fog of dementia, seeking out things right in front of him, and living in a world that was long gone. I grieve for his lost dignity, a man who had a far above average IQ, who graduated Summa Cum Laude and studied at Georgetown, but had to be fed by the hands of his wife and daughter and couldn’t speak at the end of his life. I grieve for the person Dad was before the fog, the hilarious socialite, who taught me so many lessons: that if there is a chance for adventure, take it, just make sure you have enough gas in the car. That making friends and networking is important, but so is my education. That I am just as good as anyone, but not to ever overlook those with less. That I should never forget where I came from and I need to always respect my Mother because she is the best woman in the world.
That I never should settle for anything less than I deserve, because he knew I would earn it. That I should not date any bible majors because they’d just want to marry me quick (sorry bible majors). That I needed to be picky about boys. That I needed to be pickier about boys. That it’s okay to skip a class for donuts with your Dad every now and then. That I really need to ease into that lane a little slower. That I should smile more. That I need to hold my right elbow up more when up to bat. That I really should consider teaching as a career.
That I was loved unconditionally.
And vice versa.