The first weekend in February is known as a few different things. To the world, this weekend is Superbowl Sunday. To my family, it’s my Dad’s birthday weekend. What would have been his 49th. What is now, the second birthday without him. And two years and three days ago, this was the first of several worst days of my life.
My parents had told me they were coming up for the night. This was unusual because when my family would travel to Boone, they would come up early in the morning and stay for the day then drive home at night. At the time, I was irritated. The plans were last minute and by the time they got here it would already be dinnertime. I had plans to go out to a fraternity party with my friends that Saturday night- something I’m ashamed to have told them before they arrived.
We got back to the hotel they were staying at from dinner- somewhere I will never step foot into again. I remember sitting in a chair conveniently placed in between the two queen beds with not a clue in the world that my last moments of normalcy were dwindling down. My life ended in the minutes proceeding. My mom sat on the queen bed to the right of me. My dad on the left.
“Pook, we need to talk to you about something,” mom said starting to cry.
My mind flashed to every one of my family members faces, except the two in front of me. Who was it? What happened? Are they okay? Every millisecond passing by felt 49 years long.
“Dad is sick.”
My attention shifted. On the queen bed to my left I see my Dad with his head in his hands. An image I have never been able to shake. The strongest, hardest and most reliable man I have ever known showing emotions I’ve never witnessed. My first memory of my new life. My new life where I will never remember who I was, what I thought I cared about before this moment, and a life that wasn’t tied together, or choked, by a blue cancer ribbon.
My dad would never celebrate another birthday alive.
Looking back, I’m not sure how I survived and continue to go on with someone so important absent. I wake up most days with the weight of loss constricting me like a Chinese finger trap. Every time I breath it’s as if the weight has a tighter grip on my mind and a downward pull on my body. When I wake up I remember who I am and what I’ve gone through to get to this moment. A process that feels 49 years long.
What I miss the most are the nuances of a person. The sounds that nobody would be able to effectively mimic. His pounding footsteps on our old wood floor. The way he would clear his throat sitting at his desk. The distinct sigh he had at a minor inconvenience. The jingle he would sing before a Patriots game. How he would imitate our little wiener dog’s voices. And the classic, “very good,” in the rare occurrence that someone in my family did something that mildly impressed him.
Here we are two years from the diagnosis, two birthdays later, and everything has changed. My age, reading choices, goals, passions, actions, purpose, relationships, thoughts, home, how I love, what I love, how I think, what I want for myself, my future, what it means to serve others, my silence, my view of the world, my view of life and death, what it means to live, my peace with mortality, my beliefs spiritually. Anything you can think of in terms of who I was before and who I am now- is different. A transition that feels like it has taken 49 years (and will take 49 more).
As ironic as this is- change has been constant over the last three years. Change and the pain that goes hand in hand with it. Well, and one more thing, I’m half of him. I find sanctuary in this realization.
Eric John DeJong was a half for a lot of people. 49 years ago, today, his soul was born into a body that took form as a son, brother, husband, father, friend, colleague, fighter for this country, and sarcastic MAsshole. Whatever half you may be, we continue quietly through this world sharing pieces of him in what we dedicate our time and lives to. Although his halves experience grave hardship, the bond is unique to any other half we may be to anyone else.
And if you’re not one of Eric’s halves, you’re somebody’s.
By: me for you
You are there when I close my eyes
When I rest, and wake
I succeed, it’s our victory
I fail, it’s our growth
I love, it’s our power
I weep, it’s our cry
I am still, it’s our balance
I laugh, it’s our bliss
I breathe, it’s our peace
I grieve, our life
I remember, it’s our legacy
I am half
Who is with you?
Where are you?
What do you see?
Am I there?
Is it me?