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Four Years Later

Dad in Mexico
Dad in Mexico
Shannon Hallenbeck

There are multiple ways to measure the passing of time. The patterns of sun and shadow on the ground, the rumbling of our stomach, the shoes that no longer fit our child’s feet—these are all indicators that time is marching steadily on. Occasionally it drags like a sleepless night, and sometimes it feels like it was only yesterday we graduated from high school.
I am particularly reflective on the passage of time starting in June, because it was on this day four years ago that my dad died quite suddenly. My memories of the night and months following my dad’s death are stirred each year in both romance and pragmatic Technicolor. By this, I mean the emotional and practical implications I experienced following his death.

My emotions following my dad’s death were as unpredictable as the seas; love, terror, loneliness, anger, humor, frustration, sadness, and betrayal raced through my spirit and my blood. I wanted companionship and solitude as well as risk and security. Really, I didn’t know what I wanted. I was overtired and overwhelmed by my feelings, which replayed themselves like an iPod set on shuffle mode throughout various points in the days and months to come…on repeat.

The practical implications of death are easily intertwined with emotions. I found such in the planning of my dad’s service, which is comparable to preparing a wedding. There’s the announcement in the papers, calling up family and friends, booking a venue, ordering flowers, preparing food, arranging picture boards, deciding what to wear, arranging transportation, and receiving each guest as they pay their respects.

Then I had to deal with the legalities following my dad’s death. There was the probate process, the explanation of the deceased’s worldly assets, and ultimately who gets what. Besides feeling invasive to my dad’s private information, I discovered that in death, not everyone is always pleased with what they have been left by the deceased. In such cases, the experience can rival something of a jealous Christmas morning with a stocking full of hurt feelings. But to truly understand that these are in fact just things, and that our memories—and relationships with those surviving—are far more valuable than any dollar amount or trinket promised is a priceless revelation.

These days, I have found promise in rising with each new morning following my dad’s death. And on days where things really stink, there is still the hope of a better day tomorrow. I have and continue to wrap myself in warm memories of being with my dad hiking in the woods, driving in his Jeep, and resting in bed while he read my brother and me tall tales from the newspaper. I can still feel his rough hands, see him walking barefoot around the house, and hear his kind yet sturdy voice calling out “Shanman!” whenever he saw me. His love is always with me, no matter where I am living, no matter what I am celebrating, no matter what I am struggling through.

He is right here, by my side.