The page sits blank before me.

The blinking line awaits my words.

What do I want to say to you on this milestone birthday?

There are the obvious things…

I love you, I miss you, and I wish you were still here.

Not things that go without saying, but those words do not encapsulate all that I feel today, as if there are words in the English language that can ever truly do that.

Still, I want to try.

I heard a quote the other day that resonated so deeply for me. The quiet part of the song is still the song. That is where you exist for me now, in those quiet spaces. A memory, a moment brought on by a smell, a sight, a melody. You exist as a still-life portrait and a mosaic in my mind. Pieces and fragments of the life that we shared, and reflections frozen in time, like pictures in an album. It is harder to touch upon the fluidity and movement that life infuses into the image when all the looking is backward.

I try to imagine who you might be if you had lived. I wonder if you had done the work, the grueling and painstaking task of climbing out of the darkness that had engulfed you; who might you be? But more than that, I think about you continuing on that arduous journey, beyond the darkness and into a place of truly knowing yourself, peeling back the layers of your life. Who would you be if you had tended to the wounds that you carried? If you had grappled with the trauma and loss that had altered your life as a young man? If you had found the salve of self-compassion and self-love? If you had nurtured the child within you with tenderness and care?

I like to think you would’ve grown into a softer and gentler version of yourself. That you would have found greater levity and ease. It is the essence of the best parts of you that I miss so very much. The tenderness, the joviality, the warmth. I’d like to believe there would’ve been more of that, that your edges, the sharp parts that could wound so deeply, the coldness that could create a rift without warning, all would’ve muted and dulled. I think back on so many of those final conversations we had. You stripped bare of your armor, reflective, and honest in your sharing. Oh, how I would’ve relished continuing those conversations with you. With each layer that you might’ve peeled back, I would’ve gotten to know you more deeply and fully. What a privilege that would’ve been. I might’ve gotten to watch you grow not only older, but also wiser.

Daddy, something is fading. The sound of your voice, and the feel of your embrace, all seem harder to grasp. The passage of time creates more and more distance between us. And yet, grief no longer has this talismanic power over my days. It has evolved from the broken pieces, filled with jagged edges and a heaviness that brought me to my knees, to something more malleable, an aura that surrounds but no longer envelopes me. I often referenced that childhood story about going on a bear hunt, when I talked about grief. You can’t go under it. You can’t go over it. You have to go through it. What I have learned is that for every passageway I enter and every door that I exit, there is another. The through doesn’t end, it simply evolves. The missing doesn’t end, and the sense of loss does not diminish, I am still haunted by the why and the missed signs, but what I cleave to most is love. Where I stand today is trying to figure out how to be in relationship with you, even though you aren’t here. I don’t want that to disappear. I suppose that is my next throughway.

I could go on and on. I imagine myself writing this all in a card that you would read, then place out on a mantle. You used to put such effort and time into those cards, concocting rhymes and poems, riddles, and jokes. And you always wanted them to be read aloud. You were so proud of your lyrical prowess. Some say I have a gift for wordsmithing and I am writing this very personal note, knowing that it will be read by those who know me well, and others who know me through this blog, this place where I have shared so much of our story.

Daddy, today you would’ve marked an incredible milestone, reaching the age of 80. And we would’ve celebrated you. I still want to do that, though admittedly it is not without tears and pain. And so tonight, there will be a dinner and a toast, joyful memories shared, and wistful acknowledgments of all that you should’ve been here to see. Such is the intermingling of love and loss, grief and gratitude.

On this day, eighty years ago you came into this world. Your story is forever a part of ours, and the legacy of your life continues on in your children and grandchildren. There is a Hebrew proverb that teaches, Say not in grief ‘he is no more’ but in thankfulness that he was. And so above all else on this day, for that gift, that you were, we will give thanks and honor you.

With all of my enduring love.

Your daughter.