I was twelve when my father died.
He went for a jog one morning and he never came home. There was no warning. He was just gone and my world shattered instantly.
I had only enough power to cry and beg for someone else to pick up the pick up the pieces, because my mother was in jail serving sentences related to her alcohol addiction and my brother wasn’t old enough to support me, let alone himself.
A few days later, someone did show up: my sixth grade history teacher.
He had a smile plastered on his face- the first real smile I had seen in weeks. There was no awkward explanation of his presence, no message to be delivered. As he explains it, he was just there to make dinner and have some fun. And that’s exactly what he did.
He rummaged around our pantry like he knew what he was doing and he talked about his kids and Spongebob Squarepants. Despite the most unusual situation, I was honestly happy.
There was someone in my kitchen who cared, who understood, and who simply wanted to let me be a kid again. Someone who wanted me to worry about cartoons instead of funeral arrangements.
As he left, he demanded that I return to school. I had missed more than a month and I wasn’t ready to face the barrage of questions I knew would be thrown at me upon my return, but he convinced me and I returned less than a week later.
I didn’t enjoy it, but I was there doing normal things. And in my book, that counted for something.
Years later, I paid my old history teacher a visit. I had since moved, hundreds of thousands miles away from that home. We made small talk. I told him about school and he talked about music. And then the conversation turned to my father.
I had only one question: “Is he proud of me?”
I needed to know. Because despite the letters and the prayers and the homemade lasagnas and whatever else everyone offered, I wanted answers.
He smiled. “Of course. We’re all proud of you.”
At first, I didn’t know why they were proud, but I think I’m learning.
Since my father’s death, there hasn’t been a day when I didn’t think about him, when I didn’t think about how much easier life would be if he was here, able to weigh in on my decisions and feelings. But, since his death, there has also never been a day when I didn’t move forward.
I believe, with all of my heart, that it’s okay to miss people and feel heartache. I believe we must feel that. But I also believe that while we feel these emotions, we must keep moving. We must find one moment in our day to take one step forward. Because as long as we take that one step, we are moving.
And as long as we move, we survive.
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