My father died decades ago and he was part of my life a very short time. My siblings and I don’t talk about him much yet his death was probably the most formative experience of our lives.
Our family had a joyous event last week when my nephew married and it pulled us together from near and far. The bride and groom honored family members who had died in their wedding program. I expected to see my mother included but finding my dad’s name surprised me. That, and the groom’s physical resemblance to my father, made for an emotional ceremony.
The emotions didn’t end there. Seated at my table was a neighborhood friend that I hadn’t seen in over a decade. We grew up together, went to the same overnight camp, and commuted by train together for a year. But it wasn’t all that history that he shared. He chose to tell me, for the first time, how my father’s death had influenced his entire life. And that surprised me.
I was eleven when my father died and my friend was twelve. He said that my dad’s early death had an effect on not just him but our entire neighborhood. It was so unusual for a parent in their prime to die. His father was older than mine and he shared that for years, he was terrified that his father was going to die too. The impact didn’t end as he grew. He did not become a father until his early forties. He was so concerned that his children might fear that he could die that he chose to protect them by refusing to tell them his correct age. When they were old enough to inquire, he told them he was thirty-eight. When they asked a few years later, he told them he was thirty-nine. In ways I couldn’t have imagined, my father helped this friend be more appreciative of his own dad and influenced the kind of father he wanted to be.
I learned an important lesson last week. Not only do the bereaved experience life changes from their loss but unknown to us, other people can be deeply impacted as well. Our loved ones might leave a legacy far more lasting than what we imagine.
This new insight gives me a deeper appreciation for how our lives touch one another. And after all these decades, it’s a good feeling to know that my dad’s spirit still lives on.
Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now available in three individual volumes: "Illness & Death," "Suicide" and "Miscarriage." Additional titles are available as e-books: "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store. Click here to order.