In November 2017, I was at my friend’s wedding. She looked beautiful, and happy, and when the music slowed and she took the floor with her father for their dance, I turned away and burst into tears.
“My father will never dance with me at my wedding.”
The words flew into my mind unbidden, but it wasn’t the first time they’d come. I tried to calm myself as I had in the past; of course he would be there to dance with me. Of course he would make it. He wasn’t that old after all. I could call him right now and hear his voice and he’d make me laugh and I could stop worrying.
But I couldn’t calm down. As one of my best friends danced with her dad, I stayed firmly facing the wall, shaking with the effort of keeping silent and trying to pull it together at least enough that I could sneak out to the bathroom and wait until the anxiety, and the horrible certainty faded. Eventually, the song ended, I leaned into my boyfriend for support, and chalked it all up to a bad mental health day.
I had less than three months left.
The day my dad died was the strangest day of my life. I was at a wedding with my boyfriend in New Hampshire and suddenly my mom was there and time became very, very still.
Over the past month, I have mourned my father more deeply than I can ever explain, even if I wished to. This will continue. Some days it will consume me and leave me shrieking into my mattress, or gasping silently in the bathroom at work. Some days it will be so bad that I don’t know how I’m supposed to keep breathing, much less be happy again.
And some days, like today, I will laugh and smile and cry and feel peace.
Joseph O’Dell Barney was the brightest person I’ve ever known. He sang loudly and often, and he played the guitar every day.
I can describe him, how he had crystal clear blue-green eyes, preferred his hair short, and had a perpetual moustache, usually with a beard (except for those times he tried to trim it and accidentally shaved his entire face).
I can explain how much he loved sweets, and Cosmos, and cigars, and annoying my mother, and really all manner of things that were bad for him.
I can try to convey just how much people liked him. Whenever we’d walk the dog throughout the years there was inevitably someone to say hello to, or talk with. When he married my mom so many people crashed their reception that the owner eventually had to shut it down for putting the entire building over capacity. There were over 600 people at his wake, most of whom waited outside in below-freezing temperatures for over an hour.
I can tell you how awesome he helped make my childhood, how he’d dance with me around the living room and swing me over his shoulder when I was too tired (or lazy) to walk upstairs to bed. We’d go on walks in the woods, and snug watching movies, we’d go sledding and swimming in the ocean, and in the summer, we would lay out in the driveway and look at the stars.
I can explain how much he loved being a Pepe. I remember how excited he was when my sister told us she was pregnant with her first baby. He loved taking the girls out for McDonalds, and picking them up from school. He went to Disney World, and soccer games, and dance recitals and everything in between.
I can talk about how much he loved his family, how often we visited my Meme and Pepe, how he worked three or more jobs to be able to raise my sister and brother, how many times I came home to one of his sisters or brothers with him on the couch.
I can tell stories, like the time when I was a little kid and we pranked my mom by having me run out yelling as she walked through the door so my dad could run out in his Superman costume and swoop me to safety. Or how he kept asking my mom to marry him for years before he finally did.
I could talk for hours, days, weeks, months, years about my dad and I still couldn’t capture what it was like to know him. And if you knew him, you know that too.
I had the best dad in the world. Hell, I still have the best dad in the world. I always will.
Love you, Daddy. Happy Birthday.