To fully appreciate this story, you have to know the characters:
Fluffy was our fat black cat with an attitude. She and Dad had this thing . . . They glared at each other, they made every indication that they didn't like each other, but deep down I think they had respect, even affection for each other - but neither would admit it! Here is a photo of me holding her. I always really loved Fluffy. When I was little, I told her stories when we laid down to bed, and she put up with me dancing her around the living room. We had her for almost my entire childhood. Digger was our family dog. She was always eager to please, excited to see us, a little pathetic in her desperation for affection (I say that with love in my heart, Diggie). Again, Dad always acted kind of impatient with her, but you really couldn't not like Digger. Jenny was . . . well, I don't actually remember Jenny. She was one in a series of cats that my sister adopted. This photo may or may not be of her. My sister will probably be shocked that I don't remember Jenny. Here is Dad's letter:
"Saturday night, I was sitting in the living room enjoying the quiet. Fluffy was asleep on the floor, Jenny was on the arm of the couch, and Digger was asleep on the other end of the couch. I was just thinking, 'What a peaceful scene,' when Jenny stretched in her sleep and rolled off the arm of the couch and landed right on Fluffy. Fluffy woke up so pissed that I really thought she might have a heart attack. She actually walked in circles growling and cussing. I swear Jenny was laughing. Digger didn't know exactly what had happened, but she jumped down barking - 'I didn't do it - it wasn't my fault - but if there is anything I can do to help, I'm here!' Fluffy finally walked to the door to be let out. The fact that I was laughing and couldn't stop didn't help matters. Instead of meowing to be let out, she actually growled at me. When I opened the door for her, I considered telling her to have a nice day, but I was afraid she might attack me!"Well, I don't know if that will be as funny for those of you who didn't know Dad and Fluffy, but maybe it will make you smile.
I wonder if those of you who have lost a parent relate to this feeling - it is as though the ground you have always stood on is suddenly gone, and you are left floating, untethered. And really, I am not untethered. I have my husband, my mom, my siblings, and all of my Dad's sisters, so much family, and so many friends. It's just that Dad was such a big part of my life. I think of him, of the feeling of hugging him, his bony shoulders, his wild hair, his mischievous spirit. I think of how he taught me to think for myself and to be brave in the adventure of my life. He always said, it is when you feel both excited and a little scared that you know you are on the right path.
I want to share one more little bit of a letter. It really speaks to where I find myself right now. He wrote it to me when I was in college. I had just decided which school to attend the next year, and at the time, it felt like a huge decision.
"I knew that no matter where you ended up, you would be fine and continue to educate yourself. But what made me feel best of all was your realization that you are ready to let go of my hand and walk alone. There is a strange paradox to being a parent. One side of the paradox wants to see the child walk by herself and the other side needs to be needed. Either side can be taken to extremes, but if a balance is found, it's a beautiful thing. I really believe we've reached that balance. I want to re-emphasize that I'll always be here for you, and if you need some help, don't be afraid to ask, but there is nothing that could make me prouder right now than to see you standing out there with confidence and belief in yourself. Some people never achieve that moment of grace and freedom, and that seems terribly sad to me. You have the heart of a winner so there is no such thing as losing, and the soul of a searcher so there is no such place as lost."Dad helping me, buttoning my nightgown.