This morning a watched a clip from a recent interview CNN’s Anderson Cooper had with Stephen Colbert of CBS’s The Late Show talk show. In the interview, Colbert and Cooper talked about their grief over the loss of their fathers when they were only 10 years old. Colbert‘s father and two older brothers died in a plane crash on September 11, 1974. And Cooper lost his father when he was 10 years old, and a few months ago, lost his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, as well. Seeing this beautifully realized interview, of course, reminded me of the loss of my own father nearly three years ago.
When Daddy died on December 3, 2016, I was not a child, thank heaven, but I think I understand some of the feelings they shared of their childhood grief because I feel similarly about the loss of my father: that nothing will ever be the same, that things do not matter in the same way they did before, and that the universe is aligned differently now for me after Daddy’s death. Curiously I also feel he’s close to me from time to time, and I pray to him when I need strength.
At dinner last night Kurt and I were talking about Daddy‘s last Thanksgiving. Daddy had broken his hip and was in a rehabilitation center trying to regain his strength. We got permission to bring Thanksgiving lunch to him in the rehabilitation center’s cafeteria which was quiet and abandoned from its usual clatter of activity because the staff were away sharing Thanksgiving with their families. Daddy had bedsores and was in a good deal of pain, but the rehab folks had given him a shot so when he came downstairs in his wheelchair he seemed strong and very happy. In addition to a turkery and all the trimmings, we brought a birthday cake for Tracy, Justin’s wife, since we were celebrating her birthday as well as Thanksgiving. We all laughed as daddy ate the icing off the bottom of the birthday candles. It was such an ever-so-daddy moment!
Kurt had set up a tripod to get a group shot of all of us on that Thanksgiving day. And I am so grateful that he did. The photo shows daddy holding hands with Kurt (who he adored) and showing his great joy and happiness for just being with his family. On December 3, a few days later he died with a sudden heart attack, and I sat beside his bed at the rehab center touching him repeatedly and trying to say goodbye.
When I see these photos from Daddy‘s last Thanksgiving, I am ever so grateful to be reminded of his beautiful spirit. I pray to him now in my hours of need and feel him close to me. I call out to the part of me that came from him so I can find the strength to live passionately as Daddy did.
Colbert says that grief is a gift because we can understand the pain in other people and reach out to them because of our own grief. I hear the truth in that. There is a fragile beauty in grief that reminds me of the sweet and terrible connections of life that I must never take for granted. Singing, laughing, comforting, encouraging, loving.
And yes, crying. I do hate to cry, and I have been doing too much of that the last few months as we moved Mama from the family home where she lived for 49 years to a condo which is a better home for her to management now. Cleaning out the house reminded me of Daddy in all his glorious complexity and eccentricity. I know I am very much like him and not only in my family’s gastrointestinal issues!
Daddy did not make a great deal of money in his life, in fact he lost jobs throughout my childhood–probably from being his own obstinate, couldn’t-stand-to-be-disagreed-with self. When I was a senior in high school, he told me clearly that he did not have the money to help me with college. But when I was able to go to school part-time while working full-time at the University of Tennessee, he was my greatest cheerleader.
He encouraged me to be myself and he lived long enough to see me do just that, for which I am grateful. How do I live without him? I take refuge in the small, beauty things of life; I open my arms fully to sing passionately and share my joy for music when I get the chance; I tell Daddy’s story; and I doubly love my grandchildren: for myself and also for Daddy. My father never got to meet his great-grandchildren who were born in 2017 and 2019, but I know he would be ovecome with their bright eyes, their gorgeous, innocent faces that are full of joy and wisdom that we adults have too often forgotten or left behind.
Kurt and I were at a car dealership this weekend for a test drive to replace my 11- year-old Honda Accord. To my surprise, this dealership, Toyota of Knoxville, has quotes from politicians, scientist, and writers framed on their wall. Many of them speak directly to our times–and to all times–but this one reminded me of Daddy.
Yes, Einstein knew a thing or two what was important in life. Daddy was a man of value, and I am ever-so proud to be his daughter carrying on the tradition of placing values above riches, caring more about people than things. Here’s to Daddy, Roy Rotha Allen, formerly of Knoxville, Tennessee, who now lives large and free in my memory.
~ Anna — 8/26/2019