Father's Day, 2001.
A day that did not start out well.
A day on which I had never felt more or completely alone.
You see, by the time Father's Day 2001 arrived, I had been widowed for all of five months. As if that were not enough, my own father -- who was at Mike's bedside when he died, at the funeral that followed and thereafter watched his little girl as she began her new life's journey as a widow -- died two weeks prior to Father's Day.
The two men in my life.
Gone... in what seemed to be an instant.
Father's Day, 2001 was not a good day.
The first Father's Day without both my husband and my father.
I was alone.
I felt abandoned.
And I was getting pretty sick and tired of it.
I had already buried a husband -- and now I have to bury my father mere months later... and right before Father's Day?
What kind of sick, twisted and cruel joke was life playing on me now?
Unable to tolerate staying in the house, it was on Father's Day, 2001 that I climbed into my car and began driving aimlessly up and down the gorgeous Pacific Coast Highway, without any agenda whatsoever and with barely a clear sense of direction. Usually my place of comfort, peace and escape, the sights and smells of the gorgeous California beachscapes brought no solace that day.
I continued to drive.
Tears streaming down my face.
After driving aimlessly up and down the coast for what seemed an eternity, I eventually found myself at the door of my favorite restaurant. Since it was Father's Day, the place was filled with happy families; all dressed up in Sunday finest. In sharp contrast, I appeared forlorn and tear-stained; a crumpled heap sitting alone in the foyer.
Looking (and feeling) like Oliver from the musical of the same name (ala, "Please sir, can I have some more?"), I meekly asked if there was any room for little ol' pitiful-looking, "abandoned", waif-like me. Since many of the staff at the restaurant are also good friends who easily assessed my emotional state, a beautiful table was quickly arranged in their gorgeous garden.
The general manager came to the table, clearly surprised to see me -- and all I could manage was a feeble, "I feel so alone today. I just wound up here". She then asked, "What was your father's favorite drink?" When I replied, "Whiskey and Coke", she declared, "That's what I'm bringing you."
And she did.
Though not my favorite cocktail in the world, I accepted the drink and took a sip.
And I immediately felt better.
Not because I was having a cocktail.
It was because that without even being completely aware of it, I was enveloping myself in happy memories.
The "forbidden sip" and the sweet taste of the whiskey and Coke that Daddy let me "sneak" as a teen. Talking down his bowling results. Laughing at his old-school country music preferences (I mean, really old-school country) and his personal renderings of the same while he make his favorite fried potatoes and onions late at night. The ominous glare that I would receive from him if I asked for a second sip of his drink.
Many years later, the memories grew to include those of Mike pouring over carefully-crafted, school-made Father's Day cards and gamely smiling at the inevitable hand-painted, just-this-side-of-unidentifiable art-and-craft that usually accompanied those cards. The chortling laugh and loving bear hug that he would always proffer to an eager, ringlet-crowned little girl who would dissolve in a fit of giggles. Looking forward to our joke-filled Father's Day dinner at the same favorite restaurant that was now making such an effort to bring comfort on such a difficult day.
My thoughts had actually begun to turn from those of loss, abandonment and sorrow to those of funny, sweet, laugh-out-loud, lovely memories.
And I finally realized...
I wasn't alone at all.
I got it.
My daddy was still right there with me.
Kendall's daddy was still right there with us.
They were always going to be with us.
Because they were a part of us.
Those things would never change.
Their deaths ended only their physical presence on earth.
Not the memories.
Not the love.
All I had to do was allow those memories and the love to truly occupy my heart and commit to celebrating and living the legacies that these two incredible men left to us to carry forward.
So I did.
I let the memories in.
I let the love wash over me.
And I smiled.
Through the tears, I actually smiled.
No -- Father's Day 2001 did not start out well.
The beginning of that day does not evoke lovely memories.
But Father's Day 2001 was also a turning point.
And though the day did not start out well...
I now remember Father's Day 2001 as the day that eventually brought both comfort and growth.
Even better is that Father's Day once again became a day that I actually enjoy.
And so, for those who are without the physical presence of fathers on Father's Day -- be it your own father, the father of your children or both -- dare to let the love and the wonderful memories in, however that would manifest for you. Maybe it would be with a favorite food or drink at a restaurant that you love. Perhaps it is with a barbeque and silly games or going through family photo albums.
Wherever and however you wish, let the memories in.
Don't be afraid...
It's going to be OK.
...and Happy Father's Day.
Lovingly dedicated to our family's "daddies": "Clink" Clinkenbeard (of blessed memory); Mike Fleet (of blessed memory), Dave "Papa D" Stansbury, the most incredible dad to our two beautiful girls and to all families everywhere who are missing their fathers.
Carole's latest book, "Happily Even After..." has won the prestigious Books for a Better Life Award. For more information about Carole Brody Fleet and Widows Wear Stilettos, please visit www.widowswearstilettos.com
Follow on Facebook at Widows Wear Stilettos
Follow on Twitter: @WidowsStilettos