15: A Healing Gift

15: A Healing Gift

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

A Healing Gift

God gave us memories that we might have roses in December.

~J.M. Barrie

My dad was more than a father to me; he was my friend and confidant and one of the most amazing people in my life. So when he passed away suddenly from a stroke at the age of 51, my world fell apart. I was lost, along with my mother who had been with my father since age 16, two brothers, and everyone who knew him. We were thrown into a thick haze of anger, sadness, and shock.

I cried every night and tried to hold onto all my memories of him. I replayed every moment I could remember—jotting down thoughts, printing out old e-mails, reading old birthday cards—anything I could hang on to because I didn’t want to forget. As I was going through all these old memories, I began to wonder about all the things I had missed. My dad was a quiet man who was known for his listening skills, his patience, his humor, and his smile. He was often the one listening instead of telling stories. I wanted to know what stories I had missed by losing him so soon. So I decided to compile a memory book as a surprise Christmas gift for my mom and brothers.

I started my project in November, contacting everyone I knew who was close to my dad or had been in the past. I sent e-mails and letters asking for friends and family of Gary Force to send me their thoughts and memories of him. I asked them specifically to share funny stories about my dad and the stories that maybe no one had ever heard or had long forgotten. I told them to respond no later than one week prior to Christmas.

I waited and waited and got very few responses by December. I began to wonder if this was a horrible idea or if anyone even cared. And then the responses started pouring in. About one week before Christmas I began to receive handwritten letters, old photographs, and e-mails by the dozens. I was amazed and awed by the response and even more moved by what people had written about my dad. Almost all the stories and memories were new to me. They were stories about my dad playing poker until 4 a.m. in high school, about pranks he pulled with his college roommates, about his first job after college, about how he met my mom and their life together, and stories involving his love for his family and friends. Every story was a precious gift.

In the end, my compilation included more than 50 entries and was 85 pages long. Family and friends poured out their hearts and souls about the man who was suddenly taken from them. They spoke of the things they had wished to say to him and the memories they would cherish forever. I compiled the book on the computer and had it printed at a local copy store. I gave it to my family as the last gift on Christmas Day. It was overwhelming. My mom was speechless, bawling her eyes out while looking at the thickness of the book. My brothers just stood up and hugged me without saying a word. My mom and brothers were both moved beyond words and it took them hours to go through the book. Through tear-filled eyes, my mom said it was the best gift she had ever received.

This book was more than just a book of memories. It was a healing process. I was not expecting to feel better about losing my dad through reading all of these stories, but I did. I felt happier knowing that he had led a great life and touched so many people. I am so proud to have him as my father. Making the book was my first step on the road to healing. Now whenever I am sad or missing him, I pick up the book and flip through it to laugh and smile. I know that he is looking down, reading it too, and hopefully laughing and smiling along with me.

~Jenny Force

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