Notes on Gratitude

I am losing him.

Each subsequent year, I forget a little more—the smell of his Old Spice, the shimmer off his salt and pepper hair, the way he’d lose his dentures and we’d have to rerun our errands or dig through trash cans. The sound of his voice and the way he could whistle. Man, could he whistle. I’ve never heard another soul whistle the way my dad could. He loved to stand at the top of the stairs that lead to the basement in my childhood home and whistle while he shined his shoes to impeccable perfection. I think he taught himself during the war. What else is there to do inside a tank as you rumble across Germany? But I can't be positive because he never spoke of the war, and I never asked.  

What I can’t seem to forget, no matter how hard I try, is the last time I saw him. I can’t wipe my memory clean, shake the Etch-A-Sketch of the image of him dead in his nursing home bed. I think he'd been dead for a while before anyone noticed. By the time I arrived, he looked deflated, as if his skin rested on top of him like a summer sheet. The radiance that had existed in him–even as he spiraled into dementia, as he forgot my name and then his own, when he became bedridden and hallucinatory–disappeared. There would be no more whistling, no more laughing, no more hearing his good-natured fake Irish brogue, "Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” There was just no more.

So on days like today, I pull out the albums and try to remember. I try to replace that image, refresh the picture of death with his life, and to remember what it was like when I could pick up the phone and say, "What do you think, Dad?"

Today, I found this one. It's an old snapshot of my family on my dad's side. That's my dad in back, in the red vest and giving the camera the finger. His sister, my Aunt Peggy, is there with her hands over her mouth, and that's my Uncle Richard in front in the blue sweater next to my mom who's telling us to "read between the lines." This photo is a cherised moment because that's how I grew up, surrounded by humor and thinking, It's okay to give the world the finger as long as we do it with a laugh


I'd like to give the world the finger right now, no joke though. Seven of the people in this picture are dead. Here's the truth: forgetting is easier. It's easier to wake up each day and carry on without them. It's easier to cover up the grief with chores and trips to the doctor and by volunteering to sell quesadillas in the snack shack. It's easier to forget than to acknowledge how desperate I am to be able to say, just one more time, "I love you, Dad."

So–I love you, Dad. I miss you. I cherish you. I understand how lucky I was to have you. I understand now that not every little girl grows up with a daddy who's also her hero, but I did and for that I am eternally grateful.





  1. love this post Tracey!

    I too have the last image of my wonderful Dad forever burned in my head. I rub and rub my eyes and shudder but can not erase the memory. So the only way – the.only.way – is to flood the mind with other images just like you have done.

    My girls are so lucky to have had memories of him as the benevolent Poppy and I consider myself blessed too!

    ~givin' the world the finger…seems mighty appropriate right now.

    thanks for easing the burden

  2. I love this post Aunt Tracey! I just wish that Tiffany could have met grandpa .. she would've loved him just as much if not more as I did. I miss him so very much. And wish that he was still here. I also remember that Irish brogue as he would say, "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph"! I also remember the laughter that he brought to our family. i have one memory I won't ever in this world forget. And that is when I was I believe 15, I was sicker then a dog with the flu. Grandpa came by with some medicine and a present. The greatest present I could ever ask for in this world! Tickets to see the Harlem Globe Trotters! Seats that were right on the floor! There's only one thing in this world I wish for now, and that's to have grandpa back. To tell him how sorry I am for the heartache and pain I've caused. To also tell him one more time, that I love him. 🙁

  3. Such a fantastic post, Tracey. I love the family photo you shared, and your honesty. Even though forgetting is easier, I'm glad you chose to remember today so you could share this with all of us.

  4. What a beautiful post, Tracey! The fact that you miss your dad so much is a testament to what a great man he was. You were lucky to have had him in your life. And he was lucky to have such an amazing daughter.

    I have to remind myself at times that while pain comes from loss, it's only because we loved so much.These are people that really mattered to us, and they enriched or lives.

    When my mom died, I realized that saying, "It's better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all" wasn't just about romantic love. It's about anyone we are fortunate enough to hold dear.

    No matter what memories you have of your dad, or the ones you've lost, his spirit is within you. And you shine so brightly, Tracey.

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