“You know that story, Finding Nemo?” my 4-year-old nephew asked. “That’s a story with a happy ending because he gets to find his daddy.” It was six days since my brother, my nephew’s father, had died and oh, how my heart broke hearing this simple observation.
This will be our 5th Father’s Day without my brother. On the first one, we planted a tree in his memory. My nephew, then 5, held up the card he’d made for his dad, said a few words and then hung it on a branch. It gently fluttered in the wind as we snacked on refreshments and swapped stories about Brent.
The next year, my sister-in-law celebrated quietly with the kids, taking them on a little adventure. The third one was unique. We entered the children in a triathlon – specifically because the race fell on Father’s Day. They drew tattoos on their arms with markers – hearts with “Daddy” in the center. Our families watched and cheered and a day of sadness was filled with joy. I loved watching the smiles on their faces as they crossed the finish line and collected their medals.
Father’s Day is hard. As a bereaved sibling, I grieve for my own father, who misses his son so much. I visit my father, knowing I can’t fill the gap but wishing I could.
I grieve for my niece and nephew who make the obligatory cards at school, and never get to present them. I grieve for my sister-in-law, who wants so desperately for the children to live their lives as “normally” as possible after such a great loss. And I grieve for my brother, who doesn’t get to celebrate and revel in the joy of being a father. It is an odd place, this role as “grief observer.”
Father’s Day is not my day to be sad and yet, it brings all this to the fore for me. As a sibling, I’m on the sidelines, supporting as best I can. I attend dance recitals, baseball games, soccer, and concerts – always hoping that in some small way, my presence as “Daddy’s sister” offers a tiny connection to their dad.
But on Father’s Day, I feel especially lacking – and powerless. No, it’s not my day to feel sad, but I do. And although this year will be another quiet one – there are no races to watch and cheer at – I will think lovingly of my brother and reflect on all the nice ones we enjoyed together.
Brenda Marshall 2011