Grief does not know time. It doesn’t matter how many years have passed, there are moments when you still mourn. There are days when the wound still feels fresh. When you lose someone you love, time has this crazy way of moving by so quickly, yet also standing still. It’s as if these last 7 years without my father have been one big blur, although there are moments when it feels as though he was just here yesterday. It’s hard to explain.
I’ve always spent August 25th feeling completely overwhelmed with sadness and grief. It’s as if I am forced to relive this day on repeat in my mind. I swear that sometimes I can still hear him take his last breath and I can feel his final heartbeat underneath my left hand. I remember the t-shirt I had on. I hadn’t eaten or slept in days. I sat there in a chair next to his hospital bed, praying for a miracle. I wrapped a rosary bead around his thin, fragile wrist. I held his hand so tightly in mine, refusing to leave his side. I knew it was coming and when it did, he gave me one last smile. It’s the most vivid memory that I have from my entire life and it’s extremely hard to not envision that each year on his anniversary.
I’m trying my best to relive the good memories instead because there are so many. When I think of my father, I don’t want to constantly see the sick version of him in those final 3 months before he passed. I want to see the healthy and happy version, the one I knew for 26 years. While the grieving process for me may never fully come to an end, I am trying to be more mindful of what I allow myself to visualize when I think of him.
For me, these white balloons symbolize a celebration of my Angel’s life. I started doing these tribute shoots for him on his 5th anniversary and it’s been so therapeutic. It’s my way of honoring him and his incredible legacy. When I write these words, I feel as though he is reading them with me. I know that probably sounds crazy, but I get this sense of energy around me that I can’t put into words. Even though I can’t see him, I believe in my heart that he’s still here. I have to believe that.
I decided to do something a little different this time so that I can honor some of my favorite memories of him. It’s so hard to narrow these down, but here are 7 of them – one for each year that he’s been gone.
- When my parents got divorced, I was about 13 and that is when my dad finally learned how to cook really well. He became obsessed with watching Emeril, Rachel Ray and Bobby Flay. Some of my favorite moments are when he cooked for me, which was typically every Sunday night. He made a killer Rosemary Chicken stuffed with goat cheese and this incredible seafood pasta dish that I miss terribly. I lived for his garlic mashed potatoes. He would constantly criticize his own food saying he should have added more salt or left something in the oven a little longer. He didn’t realize how great he was at cooking. I would give anything to eat his food once more.
- When I was pursuing music, I told him that I wanted to learn how to play the guitar. Maybe a week or so later, he sent me a text message and told me to go outside and look in the backseat of my car. I ran out and found a brand new Yamaha acoustic guitar with a few books on how to play for beginners. I could not believe it. I will never ever forget that moment. He believed in me so much even when I didn’t believe in myself. He supported me in so many ways.
- Whenever I wanted to buy him a present for his birthday, Christmas or Father’s Day, he would tell me not to get him anything. He just wanted for me and my sister to get along. I would then say, “But no really dad, what do you want that I can buy you?” He always told me to buy him these white t-shirts that he loved that went under his dress shirts. Literally every year without fail, that is all he asked for. He was such a simple man. He never asked for much. I would of course get him way more and he would get excited opening up his gifts. He would constantly say, “Natalie, you got me too much.” But he would say it with a smile.
- After I graduated college in 2006, I auditioned for American Idol. This meant that I had to spend an entire weekend sleeping outside of the Jacob Javits Center. It was a super last minute opportunity that my parents knew I could not miss. I can remember my dad driving me to the ferry and asking me to sing for him. We ended up singing together the whole car ride. I could see how proud he was of me in that moment. I miss sharing my big opportunities with him.
- He was so punctual. If he told you to meet him at 9am he would expect you to be there at 9 on the dot, not a minute later. Sundays became our day and sometimes he would pick me up in the mornings for breakfast. SO many times I would wake up late and tell him I needed 15 more minutes or even a half hour. He would already be outside waiting for me and getting impatient. I loved that about him. He was a man of his word. When we went to breakfast, I would be on my phone, which back then was either the sidekick or blackberry. He always yelled at me to get off it and he didn’t understand why I needed to be on it all the time. I wonder what he would say about it now, knowing that it’s part of my job. I’m trying to create a better balance dad, I promise.
- I could always count on him. He would have done anything to make me happy. Without fail, he was my valentine every single year. On the years that I didn’t have a boyfriend, I could still count on getting flowers from my dad. One Christmas I had my heart set on getting the Wii. It was sold out everywhere. He made it his mission to find one for me and took my sister to a bunch of different stores until he found it. It was proof of the kind of person that he was. He never gave up on anything in life. I can’t thank you enough dad, for all of it.
- He would say things repeatedly until they were drilled into my head. I constantly think of his favorite sayings. “Slow and steady wins the race.” He reminded me to slow down and have patience. “Bite the bullet.” It was his way of telling me to make the decision, no matter how difficult. “Use your head.” He knew I made impulsive choices based off emotion. “Dogs get mad, people get angry.” He loved saying this whenever I told him that I was “mad” about something. “Don’t wish your life away.” He made me appreciate what I already had. “You have champagne taste and beer pockets.” He reminded me to never live above my means. He taught me the importance of saving my money. There are SO many more, but these are the ones I always think of.
I’ve expressed so many times how much losing my father has changed me. I guess you can even say it revealed my true self. I’ve come such a long way from the girl I was back in 2010. There has been so much progress and growth to become the woman I am today, but sometimes I still fall short. I am always moving forward though and I am constantly inspired by his absence. It makes me want to be better and to do better every single day.
Dad, 7 years ago you got your wings and became my angel. Ever since then, you have been guiding me and protecting me. Your unconditional love continues to surround me. I am so incredibly blessed that you were my father and I deeply appreciate all that you did for me. Today, I celebrate you and your life. I’ll think of the amazing memories that we shared together. I continue to carry your heart in mine and I know one day I will see you again. I’ll love you and miss you all the days of my life. ❤️