THE BLOG
06/02/2014 02:39 pm ET Updated Aug 02, 2014

My First Father's Day Without Dad

Susan Vernicek

This is my first Father's Day without my father. My father and I didn't always have an oh-so-loving relationship. Growing up, I believed he hated me, but of course today, I know he didn't. I remember being a pretty difficult child. I was his youngest of seven, so I'm sure he had enough sh*t to put up with before I came along. I didn't always obey my parents and could get pretty damn fresh back in the day. So, I can see why I was hollered at many times and "grounded" quite often.

My father passed away on January 11, 2014, and I've been spending most of my time thinking about him. I think about the last 33 years having him in my life and how lucky I am to have seen a man, especially my father, overcome extraordinary obstacles -- so many times.

He served on the USS Ticonderoga in WWII when the kamikazes hit. He'd beaten three different cancers from his early 50s to his late 80s and during the mix of all that, he quit drinking cold turkey during my high school days. Without a doubt, my mother played a major role in his achievements. She never left his side and she never let us down as a family.

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I'm still processing his loss and I'm shocked by all the emotions I've been experiencing. The car drives are by far the absolute worst! My family has lost four other family members in the past two years. It's been very difficult to accept their losses, but my father's passing is by far having the most impact on me.

I wasn't expecting my father to pass because he had gone into the hospital for one thing, and unfortunately declined from there. It all happened so quickly. I'm still angry and not sure how to let go.

I'm definitely not an expert on grief, but I do know there are many phases when losing a loved one. I think one of the last few phases -- acceptance -- becomes more challenging before the healing can begin. I'm currently in what I believe to be the "guilty" phase of grief. I've shed so many tears in these past months; I am numb and mentally exhausted. I lay in bed at night thinking of my dad and how each day I feel is getting to be too "normal and routine." I feel guilty going about my day and not shedding as many tears. What if he is gazing down and thinking, They've already moved on... Obviously I haven't, but do our late relatives know we have them in our thoughts every moment?

What I know for sure, as Oprah would say, our energy never dies and our soul moves on once it has reached peace within that particular individual. But then what? I'm still unsure about the 'what comes after that.'

Is he OK? Was he really ready to leave? I have to force myself to believe that if he let go, then he was ready, but I just don't know for sure.

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The only thing that comforts me now is that I got to spend plenty of time with him and he was aware of my husband and I expecting twins, which made him happy -- especially after hearing about an earlier unexpected miscarriage. In the end, I have no regrets and was able to say my goodbyes even though I wasn't ready to do so. I'm going to close with a letter to my Dad.

Dear Dad,

There will never be enough words or time to tell you how much I love you. Whether you know it or not, you have taught me so many life lessons in the past 33 years. Your imperfections, your courage, your strength, your heart, your laughter, your kindness, and your, at times, stubbornness have been wonderful to examine and soak in.

You've taught me to do a little less complaining and take each moment for what it is. As you would say, "Well, it is what it is; we'll just have to take it one day at a time."

You've taught me to work hard and not be lazy. I remember when you owned those restaurants you would come home and count your money and then hand us each a hard-earned dollar. You worked every day until they forced you to retire, but even then you didn't stop working hard and fighting each day.

You've taught me to clean the paint brushes after using them. Rob, my husband, now understands not to question me because he would typically throw them out and buy new ones each time. I would say, "My dad would kill me if I threw them out."

You've taught me to turn the lights out when I leave a room. It took years to click in, but now I am constantly turning lights out of the rooms when nobody is in them.

You've taught me to not waste food. I love leftovers just like you, and I hate to see food go to waste. I love how you never lost your appetite, even at 87, and during your last days in the hospital. I know all of us will never forget your favorite -- oatmeal and anything with blueberries.

You've taught me to see the "little things." I know I'm not the only one to notice that every time you walked into somebody's house, you would always state a compliment. You always noticed a change in their home if it was your second or third time back. You appreciated the little things in life, and it was refreshing.

You've taught me to have humor. Well, try to. You always had a sense of humor, and I loved how you were never that grumpy old man. Whenever you could fit a joke in, you would. You really knew how to make others smile, and your kind disposition always shined through.

Dad, I could go on and on, but for now I will say I miss you so, so, so, very much. I wasn't ready to say goodbye, and I'm still not. I hope to see you again soon, and until then, you will be part of my every day thoughts.