I miss him so very much. Simply, truly, utterly miss him. The depth of this pain and hurt reaches well below a shallow facade; these emotions reside deep inside, resting in an unsecured space where they are easily retrieved and returned to the surface without invitation. These feelings and this hurt – they are quietly stronger than anything I’ve felt before; at their core, they remain unexplored, yet deeply personal and infinitely vast. This hurt, as if lonely in its own right, often shares its space with other new occupants, emptiness and sadness. These thoughts, these words… this isn’t some surprising revelation that is suddenly emerging, begging to be shared publicly at this very moment in time. These are deeply rooted emotions that have remained true in my heart, planted months before my daddy passed away in June, nurtured by the impact of seeing first-hand the progressive and horrific effects of ALS on someone you love beyond words. But now, they are more than just emotions; they exist as part of my new life, the one without my dad. The one I didn’t prepare to live at this point in our life. What I also didn’t prepare for was how life without my dad would change life with my two girls.
There is one very important understanding of my girls that I have come to know and accept. Life without my dad is a very different journey for me than it is for them. That journey, still in its infancy, has not been free from certain thoughts and feelings that were not revealed, until now. Deep within me, during my saddest and loneliest days, lived a bit of suppressed and deliberately unspoken disappointment, a longing for them to feel exactly what I was feeling, and for it to unveil the same way, in sadness and tears, however unhealthy those thoughts were. I didn’t understand why it wouldn’t look the same on them. Feel the same. Impact the same. What I couldn’t see then, through the foggy landscape of pain, sadness and uncertainty, is that even if they were feeling the exact same sadness that I was, we are each unique human beings and what’s inside of us won’t necessarily manifest in the same or similar ways. What I also came to realize is that while I lost my dad, a quiet but incredible force in my life, the man responsible for so much of who I am, of what I expect of myself, and what I expect of others, the man who had been there for me at every turn for the entirety of my fifty years… they lost someone else. They lost their grandfather, and however deeply they loved and cherished him, it’s not the same relationship.
Once I let go of the completely unrealistic expectations I had for their feelings, I began to see the very special ways in which they were touched by my dad, in his life and death. It’s the little things you hear, the unexpected comments they make that lay open a world of feelings that might otherwise remain unknown. One of the greatest revelations came from an outsider, someone able to share with me how much my child was deeply affected by the year-long experience of watching her grandmother and mother care for her grandfather, seeing their pain and sadness through her own eyes, but sharing the depth of that impact on her with no one, until an exploration invited it to the surface.
In that very moment of truth revealed, I came to understand that our journey was actually not ours at all. It was theirs and mine individually, and it wasn’t necessarily destined for the same arrival time, nor the same ending location. What mattered was that because of the love they each hold in their hearts for him, there was undoubtedly a journey of healing upon which each had embarked, and their individual traveling preferences, routes and methods of transportation were clearly not for me to choose nor judge.
Perhaps, after much thought and deeper reflection, life with my two girls, but not my dad, is a misconception. In actuality, life with my two girls has continued to include my dad. Our life always was and always will be layered with his presence, his influence, his knowledge, his many talents, and most notably, his unwavering love for each of us.
Daddy, they love you beyond any words I could possibly express. Without a single doubt, you live in their hearts. Every time one of them mentions one of the many things you knew or did so well, your light shines brightly in their faces. I see your legacy, your lasting impressions with every sentence they utter that begins with “PawPaw could have…” or “PawPaw would have”. Accompanied by a genuine smile, their words are a testament to how much they respected, needed, admired and will always love you…almost as infinitely much as I do.
In memory of my dad
Thomas Francis Sterken, Sr.
April 4, 1937 – June 14, 2015