For My Father

My father is the handsome man on the left in the second row. The handsome man in the front is my Uncle Dave, who also died much too young. My mother is partially hidden, the woman on the far right in the back row.

On this Father’s Day, I cannot help but think of loss.  My father, Rex Greenland, died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 42; I was seven.  Though I was young and have few memories of my dad, I have many memories of the day he died.  The night before, my sister, Bobbi, had graduated from high school.   After the ceremony, I went to spend the night with my grandmother because we were moving the next day, and I would only be in the way.  We were moving from Hammond, Indiana to Hobart, Indiana, which is about 30 minutes away.  My father owned a company in Hobart, The R.W. Greenland Co; the business made rock that goes in the bottom of aquariums.

On Saturday morning, the phone rang at Grandma’s house.  I followed her to the phone, and could tell that something was wrong.  Really wrong.  Upon replacing the phone, Grandma said, “Honey, lay across the bed and cry.  Your daddy just died.”  The rest of the day was a whirlwind of activity.  Our neighbors and people from our church jumped in and helped us finish moving as we tried to process what had happened.  That day would change the course of our lives.

As an adult, I still miss my father terribly.  I miss having a father.  When I see daughters with their dads, I feel that pang of jealousy.  At times, I have had to leave the room when television shows or movies depicting a father’s death are on.

I often wonder what our lives would be like had he lived.  What career would I have chosen?  Would his business have grown and been successful?  At every meaningful event in my life, I wish my dad were there to share the moment with me.  Would he be proud of me?  When I have made poor choices or failed at something, I wonder if he would be disappointed, or supportive and encouraging.  What kind of grandfather would he be?

I have had so many questions for my dad over the years, and have yearned for his advice.  When my friend and I opened a business several years ago, I grieved at not having my dad to go to for business advice.  I have spent a lot of time wondering what about me is like my father.  Do I get my ambition from him?  Do I get my work ethic from him?  Am I somehow carrying on his legacy?

I know, without a doubt, that my father is present in my life.  He was a wonderful musician, even composing his own music.  My youngest daughter, Addison, inherited his musical ability.  She has taught herself to play the piano, and as I hear her play, I know my father, without ever having known her, has touched her.   It is such a blessing to hear her working to play songs written by my father; I know he is proud as his music is played by his granddaughter all these years later.

I turned 42 three years ago.  The year prior to that particular birthday, I was filled with dread.  Almost my entire life, all I had associated with the number 42 was my dad’s death.  I was quickly becoming depressed, and knew that I needed to find a better way to handle turning 42.  My husband and I had been talking about exercising, and several of my friends had begun to run.  I hated running.  Even when I was a kid I hated running.  I envied runners as I passed them on the road, but I knew I could never be one of them.  Then my husband, who has an artificial knee and is 16 years my senior, began to run.  Crap.  What excuse did I have?  For my 42nd birthday, I began to run.  It was slow going at first.  I would run 1/4 mile, and then walk.  Gradually I worked my way up to running a mile without stopping; that was a huge accomplishment for this anti-exercise-junk-food-eating mom.  As the months went on, rather than focus on my loss, I focused on keeping my own heart healthy (my dad’s brothers also died very young of heart-related problems), and on living life to its fullest.  We began running 5k races, and we were hooked.

I am so blessed that through prayer, the support of my husband, and the advice of friends, I chose to honor my father’s memory by improving my health – both mental and physical.  I think my dad is probably pretty proud of the progress I have made over the past three years.  I have run many 5Ks, a couple of 10Ks, and three half marathons – and it all started with 1/4 mile on the treadmill.

I also wanted to use my story to help children deal with grief, so a year ago, my first children’s book, Dear Daddy:  When a Parent Dies, was published.  It is based upon my experience, and written in the form of letters to my dad.  If I can help one child through his or her grief, my book has served its purpose.

Through my faith and directing my energy into exercise rather than self-pity, I have been able to cope, and truly believe this was the path God intended for me.  Had my father not died, our family would not have moved to Southern Indiana (my mother remarried a man from this area), therefore I would not have my daughters, nor would I be married to my incredible husband.  I have a good life, and for that I am thankful.  I will continue to run and to step outside my comfort zone so that I can experience this life to its fullest.  We have one shot at living, and it can be taken away without warning.  I strive to make the most of each day.  So along with thinking about my loss today, I am also thinking about my blessings.  I have lost some amazing people over the years, and I miss each of them, but I am so blessed to have known them.

Have a wonderful Father’s Day, Friends!  And be certain to tell those you cherish that you love them!

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