A very unmerry birthday

As many of you know, I lost my dad suddenly to congestive heart failure a few years ago. “But how can it be sudden when he had heart problems?” I’m sure that’s what you’re thinking. Yes, he had heart issues for many years, but after making it through a quadruple by-pass during my senior year in college, I felt certain that he was in it for the long haul. He cleaned up his lifestyle (and that means he started walking and kicked the Haagen-Dazs habit) and he was there to walk me down the aisle at my (first) wedding.

Three years later, when my (then) husband and I were having some serious issues (which I hadn’t told Daddy about yet), he died suddenly one evening, while sitting at his computer, tapping out his latest weekly column for the Oologah Lake Leader, to which he contributed for 20 years.

I still feel a bit of guilt, because my father called me that evening. I was at my weekly Bible study group, so by the time I saw the call, I decided to wait until the next day to call, as Daddy was usually an early-to-bed kind of guy. I had no idea that I would never hear his voice again.

The next morning, I got up as usual and went to work with my mom. When lunchtime came, she begged me to attend a Chamber of Commerce luncheon with her. She didn’t want to go alone, and I like free food, so I agreed. We wound up sitting at the same table as my dad’s editor for the Leader, whom we hadn’t seen in years. While we sat there making small talk with the editor, picking at ham and peas, he received a phone call. It sounded like important newspaper business, until he said, “Yes, I’m sitting here with them right now. I’ll tell them.” Well, with that, my red flags immediately went up. Why would my dad’s editor be receiving a call with news that he needed to share with me? Unless…it had to do with my dad.

So that’s how I ended up learning about my dad’s passing: in the corner of the now-defunct Post Hall at Rogers State University, from a man who was a dear friend of my dad’s, but practically a stranger to me.

It turns out that my older sister had received the phone call from Dallas with the bad news, and not wanting to tell me over the phone, she jumped in her car and headed to my workplace in Claremore. Seeing that we were out to lunch, she decided to head to the newspaper office to start taking care of notifications. And they just happened to call the editor, who just happened to be sitting across a plate of stale ham from me. I have refused to attend any Chamber of Commerce luncheons since.

Anyway, there is a bit of back story for you (not to get all American Idol-ish on you). Ever since my dad’s death, I have struggled to come to terms with it. I miss so many things about him; it took me years to stop dialing half of his phone number before realizing that he wouldn’t answer. I constantly have questions when I’m cooking that I can’t ask; my dad was the king of comfort food Southern cooking. I hate the fact that he wasn’t there to walk me down the aisle at my second wedding, the time I actually got it right. It sucks that he won’t be here to meet my first child. On the other hand, I’m grateful that he didn’t have to watch me go through my divorce, all the while thinking “I told you so.” And while I still miss him every day, there are three days that I really hate: Father’s Day, October 27 and today…June 29, his birthday. While it may seem silly to others, I will always wear his beloved Dallas Police Department shirt on those three days. I’m not sure what I’m going to do on the anniversary of his death this year, because my belly will probably be too big to fit into it. I’m sure he’ll give me a rain check, just this once.

So while today has always been a sad one for me (the last few years, at least), now it’s compounded with sadness again. Today marks the first wedding anniversary that my best friend will face alone since losing her husband last summer, nearly one year ago. This should be a happy day for Lezly and Jason; they should have been looking forward to an evening out to celebrate eight wonderful years of marriage. Instead, my best friend will march bravely through another day with her two young children by her side. Instead of a night at the casino, their favorite place to go on their kid-free evenings, she will visit the cemetery. This is a prime example of how unfair life can be.

To all of us who know and love her, we are all in the same boat, as nobody knows how to treat a day like this one. Of course, we want to acknowledge the day, as it is an important one. But how much acknowledgement is too much? Which gestures will make her smile through her tears, and which ones will be too sad and overwhelming to face? It seems to be a fine line.

Happy birthday, James Robert May. And to Lezly and Jason Orf, happy anniversary. I know that the eight years you had together were special ones, and your two kids are living proof of that, as well as the legacy Jason has left behind. It’s not the happy day it should be. But it will never be forgotten.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Meg
    Jun 29, 2011 @ 21:03:51

    I know from experience that nothing anyone can say will make it better or magically fix it. All I can say is that this sucks and I’m sorry.

    Reply

  2. Lori w
    Jun 29, 2011 @ 22:34:26

    I love you and am thinging of you both today!! You both are such inspirations to me!! 🙂

    Reply

  3. Lynette
    Jun 30, 2011 @ 00:13:30

    Ashley, you have expressed all this so well! The last couple years I’ve had some questions since I’m not part of your Claremore life now…this writing answered some of those! AND, I hope someday you can see this day as the day a wonderful young woman expressed in a beautiful way what is going on in her heart. Thank you for sharing….you, your husband and your baby girl deserve a beautiful life. I believe you’ll have it!!

    Reply

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