This I Believe

Jennifer - MORTON GROVE, Illinois
Entered on July 11, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: afterlife, death, love
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This I Believe…

The phone rang at 9pm Tokyo time, 6am in Chicago where my parents lived. The details are blurry since 13 years have passed, but I clearly remember the panic in my mother’s voice when she told me that my father had died of a heart attack. In fact, he had been dead when we had talked a few hours earlier, but she hadn’t known it. When his alarm clock had sounded and he hadn’t turned it off, she had gone upstairs and found him lying on the floor.

My father was an enigma to me. He didn’t say much, but when he talked, he captured everyone’s attention, and he had more friends than anyone I’ve ever known. To me, though, he was distant and hard to read. In high school, he was an all-city basketball player; but when I played basketball in junior high, I had to beg him to shoot baskets with me. He often took my sister and me to the local deli for breakfast, but he always spent the time reading the paper. Yet his love for us shone through in little ways, like when I got homesick at overnight camp and he wanted to come pick me up, or when I was yearning to go to Spain and he brought me a brochure about a summer program in Leon.

I thought the pain of my father’s death would decrease with time, but it seems that grief just continually evolves with us. I look now at my 3-year-old son as he rides his bicycle around our neighborhood, and I wonder how my father would interact with him if he were here. Would he talk to him? Would he take him to the park to play basketball? I continue to have dreams about my father in which he’s alive-but-dead. Sometimes he’s sitting next to me, explaining that he’s been living with a different family. In my most recent dream, we were standing across from each other, and when I reached over to touch him, he slapped my hand away.

Two years ago, I traveled to Seville, Spain for work. One morning, I set out to explore the old neighborhood of Santa Cruz. As I looked up at the sun and felt the heat reflecting off the cobblestones, I remembered my father walking into my childhood home 20 years earlier, handing me the brochure for the program in Spain. And I realized that I had found him—at least for the moment.

I have come to believe that the people we love exist where we look for them. I have never visited my father’s grave and have often wondered if I should; but now I don’t think it’s necessary. My father is not in that cemetery. He’s right here, in my backyard, at my office, in the faces of my family members. He still doesn’t talk, and the pain hasn’t disappeared. But when I can find him, his presence provides direction and comfort nonetheless.