I try not to carry this around with me on a day-to-day basis, but there are two to three times of the year that I must allow myself to go to the depths of this place. Like traveling to the foot of a waterfall and letting it rain over me, I have to fully experience it. You may not understand it, but this is my waterfall of grief. It’s intensely personal, and how my journey began. And by choosing to go to this place, and climbing my way back up, I keep life in perspective. I remember what matters, and more importantly, why.
Many say I should be over it by now. After all, it’s been 44 years. Why go there, and when I do, why share those feelings with the world? I guess I do it because my story may be similar to yours, and grief requires us to hold tightly to others. Maybe my words are your words, but you aren’t sure how to say them. Maybe you have never allowed yourself to stand underneath your own waterfall, but it is a huge part of the healing process. Everyone grieves in their own way, alone, but we can still be united, hand-in-hand, as we tread carefully through the valleys of death.
My story is not something you would ever know if you passed me on the streets, but it makes me who I am today. To ignore it would be like keeping part of myself hostage. By letting it out, I get to share my father’s story as well. That may be the most important reason of all to go to this waterfall. Because to me, he still matters.
As a child, I hated that grave stone.
Cold. Silent. Unmoving. Emotionless. It did little to tell your story. Like a cement gate that kept you locked inside; as far away from me as possible.
But it was all that I had.
In some ways, I wanted to take it everywhere I went, just so people would know you were real. I needed for them to remember, to tell me what you were like, to prove that you mattered, long after those stupid dates on that tombstone said that you did.
To me, the dates were all wrong. Somewhere on there, it should have said ‘forever,’ because that’s how long we have to live without you. It really never ends.
To me, this grim slab of concrete represented the life I was supposed to have.
I was supposed to grow up as David Morris’s daughter. Jeanna and I both were. We were supposed to be sitting on the front pew, listening to you preach in church, and getting in trouble for whispering and writing each other notes. We were supposed to roll our eyes at your strict rules, wondering why we couldn’t wear what all the other girls were wearing. You were supposed to give us piggyback rides, have pillow fights, and tell us ghost stories. You were supposed to hold us when we were broken, protect us, baptize us, and one day, walk us down the aisle, and then step forward to perform the wedding ceremony.
That slab of cement, with your name so carefully carved into it, represented the gate that closed between our ‘before’ and our ‘after.’For us, there was no ‘before.’ There was only ‘after.’
How I longed to change those dates; to extend them a few years, just to give us the chance to experience a few of my fairy-tale Daddy moments, face to face. I wanted forever to start later, if that makes any sense.
I guess I came to terms with it, as I grew older. I even learned to embrace it.
It was overlooking this grave stone that I collided with God. I had a million questions for Him, and He allowed me to ask each of them. It was here that you pointed me toward Him, and Heaven. You proved to me that what matters is eternity; that life is a wonderful gift, to be savored one day at a time.
Your tombstone taught me how to stand beneath the waterfall of grief, and allow God to meet me there, even as I wondered what might have been. For every tear that I cried, He was there to wipe them away.
Your tombstone taught me that this can’t be all there is. As a matter of fact, I probably understood that before I learned to tie my own shoes.
You taught me that I belong in Heaven. I get that now, and to be honest, I’m not sure I would have gotten the message as clearly if you were standing here beside me, all preachy, with your big words and everything.
Ironically, your tombstone is what taught me how to live, and to live in such a way that I had no regrets.
Now, I treasure each moment, for I know that they are fleeting.
Somewhere along the way, I realized that I am still David Morris’s daughter. That part never changed.
And maybe others can find out who you were by the way I choose to live.
Maybe I can still make you proud of me, in a way that matters, forever.
I’ve come to treasure that tombstone, because it proves you were here. The beginning, and the end, all a part of your story.
And even though I still believe that this tombstone does little to tell the true story of who you were, it’s finally okay.
Because that’s what I’m here for.
I love you, Daddy.
Save a place for me.
I will see you soon.