Dear Rebecca and Casey,
I have a book of letters for you, valuable as gold.
They were written by family, friends, and co-workers of your dad who wanted to share their stories. You weren’t even three years old when he died. Which is to say, you have no lasting memories of him.
Indulge me for a moment. I’d like to share a few excerpts from the book of letters.
From a co-worker: “Once, I was too scared to leave New York for a job in Ohio (yes, sometimes adults are scared too), but your dad told me, ‘I’ve been there and it’s nice, so why not give it a try?’ Guess what? I did. I moved with my two little boys to another state, and it WAS cool! We loved it—we made new friends, lived there for five years, and even had another little boy there before we moved back to New York. Your dad changed my life because he made me believe that things have a way of working out okay.”
From a friend: “If you ever get cravings for dessert late at night, that’s your dad in you. If you find yourself standing vigilant for a belief, even if it’s not the popular choice, that, too, is your dad in you.”
From a friend’s ten-year-old daughter: “If I had a magic genie and just one wish, I would wish to bring your dad back so that everyone’s hearts would stop aching.”
From me: “This is your dad. In the midst of a blizzard, he took his cane and went to work. He was so determined. Yes, his physical limitations were something to be mourned; he couldn’t chase after you in Riverside Park or even kneel to give you a bath. But he gave you everything he could, and it showed in the tender way he gazed at you and especially in his strong, safe embraces.”
Right now you aren’t interested in reading the book of letters. You’re sixteen and resist conversations that drag you into sorrow’s core. You are old enough to understand that Dad is no longer hiding and that nothing you do or say can change this basic truth. But you are too young to acknowledge the overt and subtle ways of loss. You’re too young to understand the complexity of yearning, even though your experience has gifted you with resilience and empathy in spades.
Right now you have a loving stepfather in your lives. Believe me when I say this…your dad wanted this! He wanted nothing more than to be your father, but at the end of his life, when he was still cogent and aware his options had run out, he asked me to please remarry a good man so that we would all come to know love again. Your dad was generous to the bone.
I did just that. Dad Steve has now been in your lives longer than Dad Brett ever was. Dad Steve is also generous to the bone. It takes a heck of a commitment to raise another man’s children. You were five when Steve and I met, seven when we married.
Here is what I want you to know: It’s okay to love both Dad Steve and Dad Brett. Love, I believe, is the one thing that is wide enough to hold the dueling emotions of happiness and sorrow, loss and gain, and past and present that are central to your lived experience. Love not only makes sense of these everyday paradoxes, it quenches the sting of yearning.
You taught me this lesson just a few months after your dad died. You'd just turned three and were having a conversation about where he could be.
“Where is Daddy?” asked Rebecca.
“Daddy is in the sky,” said Casey.
“Is the sky back that way, Mama?” asked Rebecca.
“No,” said Casey. “The sky is everywhere.”
Dear Rebecca and Casey, love really is as boundless as the sky. You are loved beyond measure by the dad who left you too soon, by the dad who is raising you, and by me. That’s enough love to last a lifetime.
Nancy Sharp is a keynote speaker and the award-winning author of the memoir Both Sides Now: A True Story of Love, Loss, and Bold Living and the new book for children and families Because the Sky is Everywhere. Learn more at NancySharp.net. You can also reach Nancy on Twitter and Facebook.