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Dear Dad, …

Dear Dad,

Hey! How’s it going? I know it’s been a while since we’ve talked. Twenty-seven years to be exact. There’s so much to tell you, I’m not sure where to even begin.

I guess I’ll start with the weather. I remember when I was young and was away at Camp Huawni, and I’d write letters home. I would always begin by talking about the weather. I guess that’s a universal topic and an easy place to start.

It’s October in Texas, which means, unfortunately, it’s still pretty hot. Last week, we thought a cool front came in when temps dipped down into the upper 80s and lower 90s.

People around here always look forward to Fall with the changing of the seasons. It is a beautiful time of year, and in a week or so, when it gets cooler, it will be nice. I’m always a little melancholy during the Fall. It reminds me of the last time I saw you. You came up for the weekend, and I had to chaperone the Homecoming Dance at school Saturday night, so you didn’t get to stay too long. The Aggies had a bye week so that freed up your schedule! I remember hugging you goodbye, and having a strange feeling, like this would be the last time I saw you. I shrugged it off, thinking it was silly, and walked you out to your truck. I watched you drive away, and I still had an unsettling feeling. I started to tell you I loved you, but I chose not to. You know me. I have a little of that “Brown family stoicism.” I’m not real “touchy-feely” with my emotions, although I’ve been working on that since you’ve been gone. I should have said those words. I should have told you I loved you, because two weeks later you were gone, and it was too late.

So much has happened in 27 years. You would be so proud of Mom. At the most heartbreaking, difficult time in her life, she became the strongest woman I know. She could have mourned her life away, but she didn’t. She continued teaching and did it with style and grace. She has touched thousands of lives, and her influence spans around the globe. She sold the house, but before doing so, made sure that Greg and I would be okay with that decision. We both agreed it was for the best. It was too big, and there was so much upkeep. It also never felt like home after you left us. Mom lives in a sweet little neighborhood and has many friends close by. Her social calendar is filled and she continues to participate in clubs, and plays bridge, and of course, is involved in church. I know she misses you, and her heart still has a hole in it, but she is living her best life.

Greg became a high school principal, and you would be so proud of him too. He has a true heart for people, and has influenced countless lives. He is happily married to Melissa, and they have so much fun together. He’s still as funny as ever, and looks so much like you. I’m so thankful for him, not only because he’s a great brother, but because I see you in him.

Brian is now a principal. I always kiddingly say that he went over to “the dark side.” He misses the classroom, and misses coaching. Oh, by the way, in 2006, his basketball team at Arp won the 2A state championship! You would have loved it! Christopher was on the team, which made it extra special. It was so exciting! I know you would have been such a proud father-in-law, and grandfather. You always thought so highly of Brian, and I know you would have been his biggest fan.

You’ve missed so many things with the boys, I’m not sure where to begin. They survived their years in public education, and both graduated from Texas A&M. Somehow, I feel like you know this, because it makes it easier when I realize how many years have passed without you. I also want to believe that you get to see the Aggies play football from the best seat in the house. A view from heaven! I always feel pretty close to you when I’m at Kyle Field because our seats are on the top level. In case you didn’t know, there was a guy named Johnny Football who quarterbacked there for a couple of years. I’m sure you’ve heard of him. Every time I watched him play, I thought of you. The boys loved their days in Aggieland, and we talked of you often as they experienced that spirit that can never be told.

And you will never believe this! Christopher (now known as Chris to most people) is working at Stephen F. Austin as the director of basketball operations! Crazy how he is working in the same place where you served for 33 years. He has met many of your friends, and it is so heartwarming to hear them say how much he resembles you. We have season tickets to all the Lumberjack basketball games and I get a little misty when I’m sitting in the William R. Johnson Coliseum, as I remember tagging along with you as a youngster and watching the Jacks play ball. You will be happy to know that Chris lives with Gramma, which is a blessing for all of us.

Charles got married this summer. It’s strange to try to think about where to begin with him, since the two of you never met. He and his wife Kaitlyn moved to San Antonio, and he has a great job. You would love Kaitlyn. She’s so pretty and sweet, and caring, and funny! And she would adore you! They have a couple of dogs and a cat, and are learning more about life every day! At times, when I look at Charles, I realize he represents an entire lifetime that we’ve all lived without you. He was born just two months after you died. He brought us all so much joy at a time when we thought we would never be happy again.

Both boys remind me of you. They are smart, and both have that same dry wit. They are good with numbers (unlike me), love sports, and most of all, they are kind. I’ve tried to share stories about you throughout the years, and hope that they have some idea of the great person you were.

I’m doing okay. I’ve changed a lot since the day you left. It honestly almost did me in. I never understood loss, and grief, and the level of sadness, loneliness, and pain that goes along with losing a parent. I’m glad you never had to experience that. Nana and Papa both lived to be almost 99 years old! And most of those years were good, active, and healthy ones. Although, they changed after you died. Papa didn’t whistle as much, and I could always see the sadness in Nana’s eyes. We celebrated your brother Donnie’s eightieth birthday in 2018. It was a wonderful weekend in Gonzales! All the cousins were there and we have made a commitment to meet at least once a year! Your sister Beverly is as lovely as ever. We all enjoyed spending time reminiscing, but it just wasn’t the same. You were missed and thought of and remembered as always.

I completed my masters degree in school counseling in 2004. I’ve been a counselor for over 17 years and really enjoy it. Although you weren’t physically here, you were my inspiration. I knew that I had to do something with my grief…find a way to make it good, and positive, and help others. You always talked about the importance of giving back, and you put your words into action. I felt like I needed to do the same. Being a school counselor, or working in any role in public education, is tough, because kids today are faced with so many problems and issues and struggles. I am reminded daily how you were so glad that I decided to become a teacher, because it was a way to play a part in securing, preparing, and helping to create a better future for our world. I’m not sure if I’ve done it justice, but I’ve tried.

I wrote a book about you. It was the only way I could truly address my grief, and hopefully, share with others my journey through loss. It was very cathartic, and special. I know you would be proud of my effort and that I accomplished the goal I set as a second grader–to be an author. But you wouldn’t like the attention. You were far too humble and always helped others shine, not wanting any credit for yourself. I remember you once told me, “Don’t ever brag. If you’re good at something, people will know it and you won’t have to tell them.” I think of that a lot, along with all the other advice and wisdom you imparted to me over the years.

Sometimes I stop at the cemetery when I’m driving into Nacogdoches. But I don’t do it too often. That’s not where you are. I find it rather funny that you are buried within spitting distance of Lowe’s. I hate that the building is in the view of the cemetery, but it always brings a smile to my face, knowing how you loathed home improvement projects. When I stop by, I usually share the things that are going on in my life, or sometimes I just sit and listen to music in the car. Always country music, because that’s what you liked. I sit and remember, and sometimes cry, but it’s not your grave that makes me feel close to you. Or makes me miss you. I feel you at other times more. Like at A&M football games, or family gatherings, holidays, or when we celebrate milestones with the boys. Sometimes, I even see you in the reflection of my mirror. People say I have your smile, and if there’s one thing of yours that I would love to have, aside from you genuine and loving heart, it’s that. Because your smile spoke volumes. It represented happiness, and pride, and love, and humor, and kindness, and joy. I always remember you smiling. I guess that’s one of the positives of your sudden death. I never had to see you suffer. I remember you as you were on your best day.

As I think about all the things you’ve missed, and how much I’ve missed having you in my life, I’m still thankful and filled with joy because you gave me a lifetime worth of love in the short time we shared. You made every moment count. You lived with no regrets. You lived a life you loved. You were my hero, my example, my confidant, my cheerleader, my teacher, my counselor, my friend. You were my dad, and I loved you with every fiber of my being. I wish I had told you that when you were here, but I believe you knew it.

If I’ve learned anything from your death, it’s that great grief comes from great love. So inasmuch as I’ve grieved, I have loved.

Thank you for the life you gave me, and love, the joy, and even the pain. Because through your death, I’ve become a better person. I’ve made mistakes, and fallen short many times, but I’ve never given up. Thank you for teaching me that it’s not what we’ve done, but it’s what we do next.

Well, I’ve got to go. There’s laundry to do, and a house to clean. Please always know, that just as life goes on, so does my love for you…

Sharon

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