“I really want to meet Papa Hank someday,” my daughter told me as we were looking through a family photo album.
Papa Hank, otherwise known as Henry, was my dad. He passed away eight years ago, and never got to know my amazing husband or beautiful little girl.
Losing my dad at such a young age—I was only 27—was beyond difficult. Even though the pain of this loss is no longer agonizingly acute, there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my dad, miss him terribly, pine for his wise counsel, and wish the my spouse, child, and future children could know and love him as I have.
We talk about Papa Hank a lot in our house. It is my way—my only way—of keeping him and his loving, boisterous, compassionate spirit alive. It is also my way of ensuring he remains very much a part of our lives, even though he is not physically here to share in our blessings and provide comfort during times of hardship. His pictures are in many rooms of our house, including my daughter’s room, and we often watch old videos of him so she especially can get to know him, and hear his voice.
I am of the belief that when we pass, we don’t disappear forever. Our bones may be buried but the love between us and the pure energy of our souls never dies. They may change form, sure, but love and energy don’t perish. This belief has provided me so much comfort in the years since my father’s passing. I trust with every fiber of my being that I can talk to him whenever I want, that his energy still exists somehow, somewhere, and that the love he had for me, and I for him, is ever present, like air I breathe and the ground beneath me.
It is because of this that I don’t often visit his gravesite. For me, he is not there. His remains are, yes, but not him. My dad often told people that, “life is for the living”. He lived his life fully up until his last day, and wants the same for all of us he left behind.
This is exactly how I explained it to my 3-year-old when we did go visit the cemetery on the anniversary of his passing. It was her first time being there, and when we got to his gravestone she asked, “But where IS Papa Hank? Where is he?”
“He is with you all the time, Lovey,” I said. “We may not physically see him or hear him, but he is with you whenever you need him. His spirit and legacy lives on always, and that is a true blessing.”
She seemed satisfied with this answer, which amazed me. Little children are so much smarter and more resilient than we give them credit for. I then pulled out his picture, set it in front of her, and my sweet little girl bent down and kissed it.