One year ago, my life changed forever because you were taken from it. One year ago, I felt a piece of my heart fall out of its place. One year ago, I lost the best man I have ever known. Now, here I stand one year later. I have not had the opportunity to have one of our talks for a long time, so I guess I'm going to have to settle for this.
They say time heals all wounds. Pap, that is simply not true. Time does not, cannot, heal the wounds I'm left with. Every day brings with it a new reminder that you aren't here with me living it.
I see you in flashbacks, and unfortunately, it isn't the you I want to see. Sometimes when I close my eyes, I am transported back to Morgantown on the worst two days of my life. I see that man who didn't even look like my Pap laying there, while I hyperventilated in the corner. I see my relatives talking about your life in the past tense, all while standing right by you (or, that distant man, who couldn't really be you.) I see the slideshow they had playing in the next room over-- and I see your picture with the ending date of your life that pierced a hole through my heart so large I could physically feel it.
I have not listened to I Can Only Imagine since the funeral; I don't know that I ever want to hear it again. Every time I go to visit your stone, I am terrified that I'll have to see another family do what we had to. The vision of my cousins and uncles carrying your flag-laden casket haunts me. The man who carried this family for his whole life, spending his last seconds with us being carried in their arms as I hung my head. I see those proud servicemen in my nightmares, playing their monstrous drums as I passed by with tears streaming all over the red, white, and blue I had to wear to the ceremony. I can still hear your 21-gun salute echo in my head; the final reminder that you were gone from this earth forever, your fight was truly over.
I see you everywhere... at least, my mind plays cruel tricks on me and makes me think I do. I see you in every man I pass who proudly wears an Army veteran hat, the kind we always bought for you. I see you passing by out of the corner of my eye when a kind old man walks in my periphery at the grocery store... I know how Gram always had you there.
I see you in the huge plastic tub of Fireballs that we kept at the house because we know you're still hoping someone is going to take you up on an offer for one. I see you whenever I see something that I would normally scoop up for you in an instant: giant bags of jellybeans, over-sized flannel jackets, Dean Koontz books, and-- our favorite-- more gray hoodies we knew would drive Gram up a wall.
Every time I'm with our family, I feel your absence hit me like a ton of bricks. Your stuff isn't out in the open and in use anymore; the only reminders of you are the beautiful flag they wrapped around you, the plaque your fellow veterans gave our family, and the photo of you (in a suit I knew you would rather not have worn) that was on display for those few tragic days in Morgantown. I feel still more pain hit me when there is no one to lock eyes with, shake my head, and pass those knowing smirks when someone does something crazy.
I have struggled to write this for the past year. I hate that I have been reduced to numbness as a mask for the sorrow and anger that I worry will affect all of those I love. I hate that I wake up every day knowing that you aren't doing the same. I hate it most of all because I know that this is not what you want. You don't want me to be so resentful, to walk around in a catatonic state. You don't want me to hold all of this in (though I'm sure I didn't even need to tell you how I feel.)
On a recent visit to your stone, the weirdest thing happened. Mom and I were right in front of it, feeling as helpless as usual. This pretty butterfly popped up out of nowhere. It flew right in between us and your stone... and then it was gone. I didn't see it fly away, I didn't even see it fly past another stone. It crossed our path, and it was gone. I saw another one at our first family reunion since you passed. It popped up, flew in front of my sister and I, and it disappeared. I've resorted to comforting myself by saying these are my little glimpses of you-- and subsequently joking that you're giving God a hard time up there for not choosing a more "manly" animal. But, I like butterflies... which I have a feeling you know.
I know you are probably upset to know how much pain the family still feels, that I will feel every since day. I'm sorry for that-- I wish I could go with the classic "time heals all wounds" thing. I just needed another talk with you, a year later.
I miss you now more than ever. I miss seeing you kicked back on your chair. I miss coming into the house and seeing you round the corner because you heard the door and came running. I miss talking about the world with you, even though sometimes (okay, many times) we didn't agree. I miss your comments that were just a little off the wall, like the time you called me Cleopatra when you finally took in all of my ear piercings. I miss questioning your sanity for the way you loved those true crime shows so much. I miss watching daytime court TV and Family Feud with you. I miss your giant jar full of pickled eggs that you made just because I loved them. (Just a heads-up: one year later, and still no one can get anywhere near your level with those.) I miss seeing you in your seat at the dinner table. It bothers me that anyone else would think they could sit there.
I love you so much, Pap. We'll talk again soon.