June 22 will mark one year since my beloved father passed away. As cited in my July 2016 column, “The day time stood still,” my world stopped turning the moment I called my mother to check on Dad (as I was preparing to board a flight to see him). Suddenly, right there at the airport — on my knees — I sobbed uncontrollably as she told me he had died only hours before. There was no final goodbye. There were so many words left unspoken. I was devastated. I was inconsolable. I could not breathe. My grief was public and profound.
Almost a year later, my emotional wounds are deep and have left an indelible scar. My heart is shattered, but not irretrievably broken. Memories of Dad are etched in cherished photographs and seared into the pages of my mind. Not a day or an hour goes by that I do not think of him, miss him and wish I could speak to him. He emerges in my dreams and converges in my prayers. He is memorialized in the tender lyrics of Elvis Presley’s song “Memories” — “Memories pressed between the pages of my mind, memories sweetened through the ages just like wine. Quiet thoughts come floating down and settle softly to the ground like golden autumn leaves around my feet. I touched them and they burst apart with sweet memories.”
One of the grief coping mechanisms I employ is keeping Dad’s memory alive by displaying his photographs prominently in my home. I have a sacred memory box containing his I.D. bracelet, USAF dog tags, and other personal belongings. When I speak with my mom, we somehow manage to weave Dad into the fabric of the conversation: Dad’s horse won the Kentucky Derby last year, I bought peach yogurt and thought of Dad (his favorite), this will be the first Father’s Day without Dad, remember when Dad did this or that …
Recalling, remembering and reminiscing about Dad has assuaged and alleviated my heartache to a degree. Time heals all wounds, but time does not occlude the sting of death nor the pangs of sorrow.
There is no definitive book of master instructions to effectively manage grief. I’ve read “On Death and Dying,” “On Life After Death,” “Living With Death and Dying,” “Living With An Empty Chair” and a host of other books that shed light on the stages of death and grieving. They were very helpful and comforting. In the earthly book of life, Dad’s final chapter was written, but merged into a holy heavenly sequel that is everlasting. I believe he is with the best-selling writer of all time — the supreme author known as Jesus Christ. Revisit the precious pages of history you once shared with your dearly departed. Recall, remember, reminisce.
Cynthia Burton is a Destin resident and former U.S. Marine.