Thursday, April 24, 2014

It's Not Goodbye, It's See You Later...

The Facts

Life's not always fair.

His Side

When you start dating someone, you want to get to know them and have fun together. Sometimes you don't get to know who they really are, though, because everyone puts their best foot forward when starting out in a relationship. You're nice, you try to look your best, you act happy even when you're not, etc. When I started what would become my last dating relationship ever, it wasn't like that. A week after I started dating Kristi, her dad was diagnosed with stage four cancer. That's heavy. Most guys, it would have scared away because that is a tough thing to willingly get involved with. I stuck around, and I'm glad I did.

I was fortunate enough that I did get to know her dad a little while he was still able to do pretty much everything he could always do. He was a prosecuting attorney and had a big, imposing build which would be enough to intimidate most people (especially guys wanting to date his daughter), but I wasn't intimidated. This is in part because I would only be intimidated if I had bad intentions for his daughter and in part because he was one of the nicest people on the planet. He was genuine, loved his family more than anything in the world, and was lighthearted and funny.

As things got worse for him in his battle with cancer, Kristi and I got closer. There's something about going through an emotional experience together that makes people closer faster. Seeing someone at their lowest and most vulnerable point speeds along the emotional connection process. She was going through the hardest thing she has ever had to go through but it was also hard on me for a different reason. She (understandably so) wanted to spend a lot of time with her parents and I, sometimes, just wanted to spend time with her. After all, we were trying to get to know each other and grow in our relationship to see if it would go anywhere beyond casual dating. Also, being the shoulder to cry on can be emotionally draining and I would sometimes not know what to say as I was getting to know the family for the first time a situation that is vastly different from when most guys get to know their girlfriend's family. To talk about the reasons this situation was hard on me, though, made me feel selfish because my issues paled in comparison to what Kristi was going through. Even though it was tough on both of us, we were there for each other and, as I mentioned, we grew much closer in the process.

As we grew closer, Kristi and I decided that we loved each other and wanted to get married. As is customary (especially in the South), before I could ask her to marry me, I needed to make sure her dad was okay with me asking her this ever-so-important question. I am very happy that I was able to have this conversation. Before that conversation was the only time I was ever intimidated by her dad. I was intimidated because I wanted to make a good impression, not because he was severe or hard to talk to. He actually made the process very easy. He made sure that he got across everything he wanted to get across to me and he didn't, by any means, take it lightly. But he told me that he would be honored for me to have his daughter's hand in marriage… assuming she says "yes." He did give me one stipulation before I asked for her hand in marriage - he told me I had to take the rest of her also, not just her hand. We shared a laugh about that and I told him I would be happy to.

Knowing I had his blessing, I had created some epic plans for a proposal. One involved skydiving and another involved a TV show Kristi and I enjoyed and utilized my love for filmmaking. With her father quickly declining, though, I didn't want to waste any time. We knew we wanted to get married so why wait? So I proposed in front of her family while her dad sat in his recliner. It couldn't have been more special. After she said yes, I got a picture with her dad and that is the only picture I ever got with him. That is something I regret, but I would hate it if I didn't have a single picture with him.

The following weeks got even harder. He was declining very quickly and we all knew he didn't have much time. At the same time, though, Kristi's brother and sister-in-law were expecting the first grandchild of the family, Kristi's other brother was about to get married, and Kristi and I were planning a wedding. It was such a bittersweet time. Once her dad passed early in the morning on April 24th, I was overwhelmed by how I was treated by the family. We had just gotten engaged and I had only known the family for 8 months or so, but it was as if I had known them forever. It meant a lot to me in how I was welcomed in and it got me excited that I was going to have such good people as in-laws.

It's been a year since he passed and it's still very hard on Kristi and the rest of the family. Kristi will apologize to me when she cries about it, but I would be much more concerned if she didn't cry about it on occasion. When you're 25 years old, you still need your dad for things. I know I still need my dad and am very fortunate to have him around. I used to take that for granted. You never really don't need your dad but it's a lot easier to handle losing him when you he has been around to see his grandkids grow up and maybe even met a great grandkid. 

It's very hard to see the positive in something as tragic as this, but it's important to look for those positive things. Kristi's brother and sister-in-law decided to have a child sooner because of her dad's illness and that child has been such a blessing to everyone. Kristi and I got a lot closer a lot faster and began our life together more quickly than we might have without her dad being sick. And, it has brought her family a lot closer. They were already close but not like they are now. So, there are some positive things that have come from this, you just have to look a lot harder.

In closing, I know it's really hard on Kristi but, selfishly, I would have loved to have a father-in-law. I hear a lot of people say they dislike their in-laws but I love mine and I will never have the chance to do things with my father-in-law. Since he passed away before the wedding, I never even had a father-in-law. But, the last thing I said to him was that I would do my best to take care of his daughter and love her forever. I know he's looking down on us from Heaven and making sure that I keep that promise. So, he's here… we just can't see him. 

Her Side

They say that time heals all wounds. Well, I can tell you that a year hasn't been enough time to heal the wound of losing my father and I'm honestly not sure any finite amount of time will. Today marks one year since he passed away. While I know he's no longer in pain or suffering and that he's in Heaven with a restored body, it's still so hard to comprehend and understand that he's not here on Earth. While he's not physically present, I'm comforted in knowing his spirit is among us.

I see my father in my husband. This is something that has slowly shown itself to me. To be honest, when Nolan and I first began dating I remember a specific conversation I had with my mom. She could tell I was smitten, but was slightly perplexed. She thought I would choose someone a little more like my dad (since that's what daughters with strong relationships with their dads tend to do) and Nolan seemed to be nothing short of the exact opposite. Nolan is shorter (the perfect height if you ask me) than my dad who capped out at over 6 feet. Nolan has red hair while dad's was gray or, if we are getting really specific, "salt and pepper" colored (he loved it when we called it that!). Nolan has a more spontaneous personality and Dad was much more of a planner. What I didn't realize at the time was that while outwardly they couldn't be more different, inwardly they are almost the same. My dad had the kindest soul and was willing to help anyone. Similarly, I see that same deep kindness in Nolan. Dad would analyze EVERYTHING (I'm pretty sure that was the lawyer in him) and sometimes it drove me crazy! Nolan, too, tends to analyze things and yep, this still drives me crazy. When I wrote something, Dad would always be the in-house editor… he was GREAT at it. It just so happens that writing is one of Nolan's passions, so he's taken on that editor role. Dad didn't let things "ruffle his feathers"… at least outwardly. Nolan constantly tells me "it's not a big deal" or "there isn't anything we can do about that" and we move on. There have been so many instances where we have been having conversations and I will stop in the middle of it thinking that Dad would have said the exact same thing. So, it turns out that I chose someone just like my dad after all. I wouldn't have it any other way and, for that, I'm truly thankful.

I see my father in my mother - her strength, her support, her love. She's the string that ties us all together. She's always had an unconditional love for us, but it's even more evident now (if that's even possible).

I see my father in my brothers. My dad was my go-to person for any question that required any kind of technical knowledge whether it be in reference to my house, car, or anything else I could possibly dream up. My dad was a great teacher and, thus, my brothers gained a vast amount of his knowledge. They have become go-to people when needing advice on how to fix or build something. More literally, my brothers stood in for my father at my wedding. While I would have done anything to have my father walk me down the aisle, I couldn't ask for better "stand-ins". 

I see my father in my nephew. For the obvious reason:  in his name (Dean Lucas Eichelberger). In his face… oh that sweet face. His eyes twinkle JUST like my dad's did. When my nephew smiles, he lights up a room… just like dad did. You can see a smile creeping up on my nephew's face even before the edges of his lips curl toward the sky. How? His eyes begin to squint, just like dad's. My nephew has the sweetest dimples on his face just like dad did (although dad's were covered by his beard… but we knew they were hiding under there somewhere). My nephew already shows he's going to be stubborn, and what do you know… my dad was too (but with sound reason, of course!). I can't help but see my dad in that sweet baby boy and, for that, I'm truly thankful.

I miss my dad so much. I miss the way he would always speak in that legal jargon of his and sometimes I'd have no clue what he was saying; but he would never pass up an opportunity to teach me something new. I miss the way we would challenge each other to the "Word Power" section of Readers Digest. Spoiler alert:  he pretty much always won, unless luck happened to be on my side that day (which didn't happen often). I miss seeing the twinkle in his eye and the devious eyebrow raise that he was known for. I miss hearing the corny jokes that he told oh so well. I miss being at Mom and Dad's on Sunday and NASCAR being on TV (well, I don't technically miss the racing, but the sentiment behind it). I miss picking up the phone and calling Dad at the office and occasionally seeing if he wanted to meet up for lunch. I miss his voice. I miss his big hugs. I miss comparing our hands to one another's. Mine are exact replicas of his, just a smaller version. I miss the occasional outing to the Flea Market that I would take with him (but only when I was crazy enough to get up super early on a Saturday). I miss hearing him sing in church and harmonize with the music. I miss seeing his foot tap to the music… no matter where we were. This list could go on and on, but the fact remains that I miss my dad.

While I'm still skeptical that time will heal THIS wound, I'm thankful to have such a great support system. As a family, we talk often about my dad so as to not lose a moment of our memories with him. I've got great in-laws who are so thoughtful and have helped me as I've navigated this past year. I've got great friends who check up on me and make sure I'm doing alright. I've got a great husband who lets me cry on his shoulders and wipes my tears away when the reality of the situation hits me hard. For all of those things, I am truly thankful.

Remember that family and friends are all you have. Make memories. Cherish them. Don't take a single second for granted.

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