It has been a week of winter storms here in Northern California this week- hailing, winds blowing, lightning snapping trees, thunder shaking the very foundation beneath us. It seems only fitting, given that it is the four year anniversary of my Perfect Storm. Four years ago today, my beloved father left this earth for a better place, and although he said goodbye with total peace, those of us who loved him found ourselves bleeding from the gaping hole he left in our lives. My daughter had just been born two weeks earlier via C-section. My healthy young brother, who had flown out to say goodbye, landed in the hospital in full-blown liver failure and missed being at the bedside when Dad breathed his last breath. My 16-year old dog died without me. And so I found myself like Dorothy in the tornado, spinning in circles and landing someplace completely different than where I started. My Perfect Storm began the personal transformation that launched me onto the path I walk today.
Four years is a long time. It’s how long it took me to finish college. Medical school lasted four years. Residency- another four years. My first marriage lasted four years. There seems to be a theme in my life around the four year mark- and here I am. Four years after my Perfect Storm, looking back, remembering Dad.
I remember how he built five-story high radio towers on every home my family ever owned so he could talk to strangers in South America on ham radios at no cost. (Skype would surely blow him away). I remember how he bought Mom a pregnant cow on their anniversary (a big step up from the year he gave her an oil can). I remember how he loved to hang out by the barbecue grill and make small talk with everyone as they waited from their ribs. But most of all, I remember his ginormous heart, the one that paid for multiple kids who weren’t his to finish college, the one that tithed to his church his whole life, not because he had to, but because he believed. I remember how he would pick up the phone when Mom and I talked for hours. He never had much to say, but he didn’t want to miss a word. I remember how my physician father, who never pressured me to follow in his footsteps, stood beside me when I graduated from medical school, how he passed the torch and said, “Now YOU’RE Dr. Rankin.” I remember how we always said goodbye (“I love you Dad.” “I love you too, baby.”) I remember how he hobbled me down the aisle at my wedding, using the cane he needed to help him overcome multiple sclerosis from the time he was my age. I remember how Dad never let his handicap keep him from lurching down a hiking trail or stumbling down a mountain on skis. I remember how he never got upset at what he couldn’t do. Instead, he rejoiced in what was possible.
I’ll never forget how I let Dad down, two divorces later. I know he wanted me to have what he and Mom had- 40 years of faithful companionship. But he never made me feel like a failure. Instead, when he heard I would no longer be able to use my ex-husband's car to transport my art, he sent me an old beater truck as my new art-mobile. He wanted to drive it to me, cross-country, on a Thelma & Louise adventure of his own with a trusted friend, but Mom put the kibbutz on that idea (two old guys in a beater truck for 1000's of miles? She was thinking- NO.)
I’ll never forget how, when he was dying of a brain tumor, he waited to die until my baby was born, so he could hold her, and we could tell Siena that her Papa loved her so much that he waited for her. I’ll never forget the day he asked if he could leave this earth, the day I wanted to say no but had to say yes. I’ll never forget my mother, throwing herself across his still-warm body, crying, “David, I love the way you died.”
I’ll never forget…
Mommy remembers working side by side with Dad to keep their Georgia farm running, marveling at the progress a hard day of manual labor brought. She remembers Rummikub championships that would go on for weeks. Scores were usually tied- but nobody much cared who won. She remembers watching Dad and I walking down the street when we were in Indian Princess together- he was Big Acorn. I was Little Squirrel. She remembers finding Dad pinned under a tractor and how she was somehow able to lift the tractor off him as if it was a feather. She remembers how she dressed him up for Halloween in my sister Keli’s gymnastics outfit with a hairband, leotard, and tights. He could barely breathe (and you can imagine that his costume didn’t leave much to the imagination, if you know what I mean…) But he was a good sport about the whole thing.
She remembers 22-year old Dad taking her to Bok Tower in Florida, where he waited until the chimes went off at 2 o’clock so he could propose. He had tried to propose once before, but a coral snake scared him out of it. But her favorite memory (she had a hard time narrowing it down after 40 years together) was right after I was born, when he was a young doctor, who snuck into the room, against hospital policy, to nuzzle me to his cheek. When the charge nurse kicked him out of the room, he leaned into my mother and said, “It was worth it.”
And so it was. It was all worth it. Every peal of laughter. Every tear. Every swollen moment of love. Every loss. Even with the pain, it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. And so- here we are, four years later, the end of another cycle in my life- the beginning of a new one.
It’s hard to say that a loss so tragic could ever have a silver lining. And yet, like every storm cloud, it has. Four years ago, when I lost my father, I was sleeping through my life. Losing Dad woke me up. Now, four years later, everything has shifted. My life was so dramatically disrupted that I could no longer stay asleep. The loss and pain became action that brought my life to a whole new level of joy, authenticity, and meaning. It took pain for me to find my purpose.
And now I sit in the middle of another Perfect Storm, listening to the hail hit the roof, the wind howl in the trees, the rain patter. And yet, I know the sun will come out again, just as it has in my life since four years ago. Four years ago, I thought I might never feel joy again, that I might never heal my broken heart, that my light might never shine again. What I didn’t know then is that these cracks in our lives are what lets the light shine through.
I love you, Dad. I will miss you always. But I know you are with me still, my angel- just as you have always been.
Have you lost someone you love? Share your memories with us, Pinkies. Did you know Dad? Even better- help me remember....
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