For Robert J. Shea, Jr.,
Devoted father, partner, friend, and son:
It was two years four months ago. Two years to see his son finish college; to travel the country and perhaps the world; to say goodbye to friends and family; to live his final days to their fullest. Two short years would never be enough, but we would make them last. That was the plan. But he’ll never hold my diploma or scale a distant mountaintop. We never got our two years, my father and I — his battle with lung cancer ended Tuesday, February 5th at 12:13PM. He was fifty-four.
Had you asked me a year ago, I would have told you that I’d lived my life without regret. How wrong I would have been. There are a thousand things I wish I’d told my father and a thousand more I wish I hadn’t, things that weigh on me even now. Questions left unasked, telephone calls not returned, visits postponed, always because we had the time. And then suddenly we didn’t. From two years to one week, seven days when we should have had hundreds or thousands.
If only we’d had more time. He should have cheered as I left university, completing a journey he never could. He should have stood beside me on my wedding day. He should have held my child and watched him grow. These and other moments in a son’s life no father should ever miss, moments no son should ever face without his father. Yet all I can offer in exchange is an empty seat in a place of honor. It will never fill the void or ease the pain, but in time, it may suffice.
He was a man like any other, deeply flawed and greatly loved. There were long absent years and longer tearful nights, a young boy waiting for a man who never came. But time heals all things, as it healed the bond between my father and I. He inspired me to live a life he never could, to reach heights of which he could only dream. If I was his pride, he was my joy, infinitely patient and encouraging. The harshest nor’easter couldn’t dull his spirit; my father didn’t want to survive, he wanted to live.
There were missteps, of course, wrongdoings and failures. One marriage undone by hardship, another by a medical mistake. He was an imperfect man born to an imperfect world, but who of us is any different? What matters is who we are at the end, and there my father stood tall and proud. A beloved son and partner, an admired parent, a dedicated humanitarian. He saw a brighter, happier future, wanting only to hasten its arrival. If only he could be here when it came.
Perhaps he saw enough. When he was ten, men left Earth to walk the Moon. Boston sports, long his dearest passion, finally reign supreme. His state legalized same-sex marriage and the nation elected its first African-American president. His partner’s daughter was engaged, his son happy and successful. I wish my father could have seen more. But he died without pain at peace with the world, the last words he heard, “I love you, Dad.” For my father, I imagine that was enough.
A Hebrew proverb may put it best: “Say not in grief, ‘He is no more,’ but live in thankfulness that he ever was.” I can’t help but mourn the life he might have led, the memories we might have made. But I remember the man he was, the guiding hand and the warm embrace. The kind word and the knowing smile. The promise that no matter the darkness, tomorrow would dawn a better day.
I love you, Dad. May you rest in peace, wherever you are now.