My father passed away a few years ago. He was a Vietnam vet, and although he never talked much about the experience, I know that it was something that he felt pretty deeply. I remember asking him once, when I was young and didn't really know what I was asking, if he'd ever killed someone. He got really quiet and wouldn't answer me, and later my mom sat me down and told me how he didn't like thinking about the war, or what had happened when he was over there.
My dad was a life-long smoker, and his doctors had warned him for years that his lungs were not in good shape. He ended up with emphysema and congestive heart failure, and he passed away at the age of 67. Although it was never proven, we thought he might have been exposed to Agent Orange, like a lot of Vietnam vets were, which sped him on his way.
It took me by surprise how difficult yesterday was. I think it was a combination of a few things - my boyfriend's father reminds me a bit of my dad, plain-spoken, mustachioed, and handy with tools. He did a flag burning ceremony, and something about it reminded me of my dad's funeral.
It's hard to think about all of the things that he has missed, and will miss, in my life. He'll never see me get married, he'll never help me make a decision about buying my first home, he'll never hold any children that I might have. My dad was a trucker, a natural storyteller, a man who never met a stranger. He always wore cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, and he loved twangy old country music. When he got older, he liked to watch cooking shows. The only thing he'd ever really cook on the stove was chili, and after he started watching Emeril, he'd stand at the stove and go "Bam! Bam!" as he added the seasoning. If you weren't paying attention, he'd do it again, because the man was a total ham. In retrospect, there's a lot that I don't know about my dad, and it makes me sad that I'll never get a chance to ask him. He lived an interesting life, and I wish that I could know more about it.
You never really get done with grief, not completely. I was pretty wrecked when he died, red-eyed from crying and chain-smoking because, somehow, that made me feel closer to him. I would think about how people always said that we looked alike, and how I would climb up in his lap when I was little and he would let me have just a tiny sip of his drink. He wasn't the sort of man who would tell me that he loved me very often, but he was always there for me when I needed him. It's funny how the days that are supposed to remind me of him don't really hit me - his birthday and Christmas and Father's Day can all pass without a twinge. But show me a grill and a flag and a man with a moustache, and suddenly I'm in the nearest bathroom, wiping off my streaked mascara and wondering where that just came from.
Memorial Day is, for most people, a chance to take a three-day weekend, drink and grill, maybe go to the beach and get your summer started. I love that part of it, and for the most part that was my weekend too. I think it's important, though, to acknowledge all of the other meanings that the holiday may have.