This evening, seventeen years ago, eight children learned that they no longer had a father to come home to. In the course of a few hours one Tuesday night, their mother abruptly became a widow and a single mom. Their lives became irrevocably changed.
It has been seventeen years since I lost my father. Yet even now, I still feel his absence; sometimes it’s utterly resonant. The immediate loss was no doubt difficult, but I’ve come to find that his continued absence in my life is almost more painful, as I’m certain any person who has lost a parent as a child will attest.
My father was a great man. In my memories, the greatest man.
My father wore many hats.
His day job was a doctor – a general surgeon. From time to time, his legacy still falls on our ears randomly from strangers who recognize our last name, “Are you by any chance related to Dr. John Crooks? He operated on me. What a kind and humble man.” As children, we never got to experience much of this part of his life, so it’s oddly comforting to be able to have that part of him live on through others.
Raised on a farm, his true love was farming. He was uniquely fortunate to later in his career be able to take off the summers from the hospital and run his custom combining crew. Each summer he would hire on a few local farm kids from his hometown, load up the John Deere combines, grain trucks, that trusty blue service truck, and usually a few of us kids and head south. He would go sometimes as far as Oklahoma, working his way back home field by field. This part of his life we were much more active participants in, and through it he paved the way for some wonderful memories and stories for us to hold on to.
My father was a quiet man, but was well respected. He was intelligent. He loved to read. We joke that we never liked being sent to him for homework questions because it would often turn into an hour long oration of the Civil War, or some such subject. He was patient with his rambunctious brood, but when he would get upset, we would listen the first time. But he was never angry for too long.
Though these memories and stories are comforting to have, there are also challenging things to come to terms with.
All of the unanswered questions.
So often I ask myself, “How would things be different if Dad were still alive?” Our family has gone through many difficult times through these seventeen years. Would we have seen those same hardships if he were still around?
My mother had to become a very strong person very quickly. She had to figure out how to support and rear eight kids all by herself. And she did it. But one can only imagine the toll it has taken on her and how much she has changed because of it.
Each one of us kids has been affected differently by it as well. My youngest sister, who was only three when Dad died, has been raised up in a much different environment than the oldest kids were. Would she be a different person today if Dad was still around? Would we all be different people?
There are so many questions just about his life and experiences I would love to ask him about, things you wouldn’t think to ask as a child but come to you as an adult.
Getting through major milestones is another difficult thing.
Every wedding I’ve gone to, especially after getting engaged, I’ve hardly been able to watch or make it through the father-daughter dance. Not being able to have my husband know my father and understand my loss a little better is hard. Knowing that he will never hold any of his grandchildren or walk any of his five daughters down the aisle, or that my mom won’t get to grow old with the man she loved is hard…
But in the end, what can you do? The ones we love will not be here forever. You must learn to take their losses as they come. You must learn to focus on the good things that their time on earth continues to give you. You strive to make them proud, and learn not to dwell. You learn from their legacies, and try to leave as good a one for those you will leave behind.
Though he was taken too soon from my life, I would not trade places with anyone. For I have a great man’s blood running through my veins, and he makes me stronger and better, even now.