June 7, 1974. I awoke that morning at my Grandma Allen’s house. My sister’s graduation was the night before, and afterward I spent the night with Grandma because we were moving from Hammond to Hobart to be closer to my dad’s business, the R. W. Greenland Co. His business made tiny colored gravel for aquariums.
After breakfast, the old, black rotary phone at Grandma’s rang. By the tone of Grandma’s voice, I could tell something was wrong. As she replaced the receiver, she turned to me and said words I’ll never forget, “Honey, lay yourself across the bed and cry; your daddy just died.” As a seven year old, I don’t think the words truly registered. How could my dad have died? We were moving that day. We needed him. I needed my dad.
My dad had been up in the attic getting things down for the movers when he suffered a major heart attack; he was 42. My sister was 18, my brother 14, and I was seven. That moment in time changed the course of our lives. The rest of the day was a whirlwind. We were very active in Southside Christian Church, as my dad was an elder and an organist. I remember church members just showing up to help us complete our move. Our neighbors, the Rectors (who are more like family), welcomed us into their home and helped take care of us kids. We made the move to Hobart, but only stayed there about six months before moving back to Munster, which was closer to friends, family, and church.
I remember thinking I was having a bad dream and would eventually wake up and Dad would still be there. I thought that for a very long time. I would talk to dad as if I were praying. I just didn’t understand how God could take such a good man away from us. I still don’t.
In the seventies, therapy wasn’t something ‘normal’ people took advantage of. Our family was expected to just move on. My mother told me that not long after Dad died, she was having a bad day, afterall, she was a 41 year old stay-at-home mom who was suddenly left alone to raise three children. She went to my Grandma’s house in tears, and Grandma told her she needed to stop crying and get over it. We never talked about Dad. I believe that family friends avoided talking about him around us because they were afraid it would just upset us. On the contrary, it’s much more upsetting to not remember him because we never talked about him. I still love to visit with our friends, the Rectors, because they will tell me stories about my dad.
Living life without my dad has been difficult. Even now, at 50 years old, I miss him tremendously. I see daughters and fathers, and feel the loss of never having had that special relationship. As I graduated, married, and had children, there was always an empty space. What kind of grandfather would he have been? Would he be proud of the things I’ve accomplished? What advice would he have for me? What would it feel like to have my father hold me when I’m sad?
I believe that all life’s events – good and bad – are part of our path, and that has helped. Had my dad have lived, our lives would be so different. We would not have moved to Tell City (this is where my step-dad is from), so I wouldn’t have my girls, and I would not have met Gary. I have a great life, and I have wonderful people whom I love. For that I am grateful. I can’t help but wonder, though, what my career would have been. Would dad’s company have continued to grow? Dad was pretty ambitious, so I wonder what else he would have tried. He was also a great musician and wrote music. I wonder what traits of my dad’s I carry. I feel that my youngest daughter, Addie, got dad’s musical ability. She has taught herself to play the piano, and has worked on some of the songs Dad wrote. She even looks like my dad, so I can catch glimpses of him.
When I turned 42, I struggled. All I had ever associated with that number was my dad’s death. As my birthday approached, I became more depressed. I had to do something, or my husband had threatened he would put me in therapy. That’s when I began to run. I decided I needed to be proactive and take care of my heart. I didn’t know if I would keep up with the running; I had never been able to keep up with any type of exercise prior to that. It’s been eight years now, and I have my dad to thank for my running. I still run for him, and because of running, I am a happier, more confident person. It has changed my life.
It’s been 43 years since I lost my dad…that’s a lifetime. I will never stop missing him or wondering what life would’ve been, but I am content in knowing that I have made the best of this life, worked hard to accomplish my goals, and have tried to use my experience to help kids who have lost parents. Dad, I love you.