Yesterday, January 22nd would have been my dad’s 91st birthday. I marked the day quietly, thinking of him and choosing to remember only the happy times we had.

Dad around 1976 at the grounds of the American Cemetery in Fort Bonifacio

Dad lived to the “ripe old age of 49.” I only had him in my life for 16 years. Anyone who has lost a parent before the age of 18 knows that losing parent at a very young age is a loss that stays with you forever. I suppose in many ways, for many decades, I was emotionally stuck at 16. I was a daddy’s girl and when death from a heart attack so suddenly took him away, my world fell apart but I was not destroyed.

It takes a lifetime to heal from a traumatic childhood loss. It’s a loss that impacts you very deeply, whose effects reverberate through many areas of your life. I’ve learned that when you use this pain, and stay open to the many lessons it teaches you, you become imbued with ”superpowers.” Think of how many superheroes and fictional characters have lost a parent or two in childhood – there’s Batman to begin with, and Harry Potter, Percy Jackson… the list goes on and on.

Dad himself had a pretty traumatic childhood loss. He was only 10 years old when his own father disappeared only to be found weeks later, his body on the shore, and his head decapitated by the Japanese. How does a child ever recover from that kind of trauma? Eventually, I guess he did. Throughout his life though, my dad always had this quiet sadness about him. When I learned more about his childhood and history, I got to know and understand him better. These were stories that I discovered as part of my journey in getting to know my dad better long after he had died.

Dad and I at by the mosaic maps of the American Cemetery in Fort Bonifacio. Circa 1968.

I would not be the way I am today, if it were not for the many losses in my life. I love what Stephen Colbert (who lost his dad and two teenage brothers in a plane crash in 1974 when Stephen was only 10 years old) said “ Grief is like living with a beloved tiger. It can surprise you, it can pounce on you. And it can really hurt you, but it’s my tiger, and it’s going to live as long as I do.”

On days like my dad’s birthday, the tiger of grief makes his presence felt, and that’s okay. I have learned to live with it, accept it, and even be grateful for it. For when we are truly grateful for life, then we must be grateful for ALL of it, both the happy, the sad, and whatever else comes next.

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