[I have wanted to write this post for nearly a year. Today is the one-year anniversary of my Dad’s death. It’s finally time.]
Last winter, a few months after my Dad’s passing, I left the cocoon that my home had become to attend a meditation class with my friend Anne. Her Dad had passed the year before, and she had become a loving source of support.
After class we sat in the car chatting. She asked how I had been feeling. I admitted that I was still a bit fragile. I had accepted the loss, but the pain would still creep in, often unexpectedly. She went on to share how it surprised her too how some of the most minor things triggered her memories.
She mentioned how the last time she saw her Dad he had joked around by wearing her son’s hat, an image in her mind that now evokes a feeling of deep gratitude followed by intense sorrow. Anne paused and said, “You know, it’s the little things.”
A Lifetime of Little Things
I got a bit choked up as she spoke those words, because they had been ringing in my ears for months. Every time I passed the picture board in my kitchen, I thought of Dad. Every time I saw a commercial for Yuengling (the beer my Dad always bought for my husband Carl), I thought of Dad.* Every Red Sox cap, every Patriots game, every Turkey Vulture** sighting – all reminded me of Dad. I appreciated how many little things enmeshed our souls, yet the constant reminders were challenging.
I could go from perfectly fine to outright sobbing in a matter of seconds. Most of the time, the tears were actually happy ones. I have always been grateful for the connection I had with my Dad, and particularly thankful for how funny he was. Given that, it is hard to think of him without laughing.
One of my college friends demonstrated that well when she posted on Facebook, “I remember the time we were in Papa Ginos and you spilled soda on yourself, your Dad pointed at you and starting singing, ‘Michelle peed her pants.’” That still makes me smile.
Little Things Aren’t Always Loved
One of the first self-help books I ever read was “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and It’s All Small Stuff” by Richard Carlson. My sister had given it to me shortly after Carl and I moved in together. It is a little book, short and to the point, which was just perfect for my very busy mind.
As I thumbed through the pages I was amazed at how easy life could be if I just followed Carlson’s gentle advice, which resembled the Serenity Prayer. That is to say – don’t live in negativity or dwell on things that you can’t change. It was all excellent information that in that first year of cohabitation served me well.
However, when I think of the title now, I am struck by how much not sweating the small stuff can go wrong. Life is just one, giant mishmash of small stuff, and much of it is totally worth sweating. To put it another way, as my friend Chelle recently quoted in reference to her cousin’s wedding, “It’s all in the details.” We remember the little things; they give life depth and meaning.
Little Things = Big Things
Here is a smattering of some of life’s little things that feel pretty darn big to me:
- Sending Heartfelt Cards – After my Dad died, my Mom gave me a stack of cards that I had sent him over the years. I knew that cards were incredibly important to my parents. A gift is nice, but a well-chosen card is a deeper sentiment of your love. As such, I made a practice of reading every card in the Hallmark store, until I found the one that made me cry, and that was the one Dad would get. He was an old softy too. He would open the card, read it silently, and then with tears in his eyes say, “You did it again.” Some people think handwritten cards don’t matter, that a Facebook post or an email message will suffice. I disagree. When Dad’s memory was failing, my Mom would “re-give” him cards that I had sent, and she said they always brightened his spirits. There was one card in particular that had a list of accolades followed by, “That’s my Dad.” Even when things got really bad, Dad still used to repeat that line to me, “That’s my Dad.” (It is one of the little things that still makes me cry.)
- Hugs – As a kid I wasn’t really one for displays of affection. I would get embarrassed or shy. But, once I went away to college, I met a core group of friends who were huggers. Before I knew it, I was hooked on hugs. They are such powerful generators of compassion, love, and support. My Dad gave the best hugs. I still remember the feeling of hugging him for the last time. It is a sensation that I know will never go away. When we first adopted our cat Buddy as an attempt to alleviate some of the pain of losing Dad and our cat Pip, I was deeply moved when he crawled up onto my chest, placed his paws beside my neck and settled in. It felt like Dad had sent a hug from heaven.
- Counting Your Blessings – I talk about gratitude a great deal. I think it is an essential component of living a compassionate, loving life. When you are truly grateful, you look at everything differently. Gratitude doesn’t allow for a sense of entitlement, but rather forces a constant realization that nothing is received without sacrifice. When I moved to Connecticut for my first dietitian job, I would still make regular visits to RI to see my parents. Dad was always eager to see me. On one visit home, he was especially excited to show me a wall hanging he had gotten at Christmas Tree Shop (boy was he a shopper). The hanging said, “Count Your Blessings.” Not sure if I had the good sense to say it at the time, but I will say it now – “I always do Dad, because of you.”
- Pictures and Video – Absence really does make the heart grow fonder. That is where having photos and videos become so important. I am extremely grateful for all the wonderful photos I have of family and friends. They help me stay connected with their essence even when they are far away (or no longer with us physically). Our wedding video and photos were the best money we spent that day. The images of that special time remind me of the powerful feeling of love and joy that surrounded us that day. I used to watch the video every year on our anniversary (crying throughout). But, I had become reluctant to watch it in the past few years, because seeing my Dad made me too emotional. This year I found the strength to watch it. I got to hear my Dad say, “I only hope I will get to celebrate with you on your 10th.” He passed 2 months after our 11th anniversary. I’m comforted to realize that he got his wish.
There are so many other little things that make life matter – good food, inside jokes, a cuddle from a pet, a thoughtful gesture from a stranger, giving of your time. I would love to hear what you think is a little thing that makes your life better. Please leave a comment in the box below.
*Interestingly, Yuengling became available in Connecticut right after my Dad passed. The commercials appeared every night during The Daily Show. I couldn’t help but feel it was a good-night message from Dad.
**Turkey vultures seem to be my message from Dad. There were 2 at the grave site the day we laid his ashes to rest, and I have been seeing them regularly ever since. I could even see one circling over my neighbor’s yard as I wrote this.