How much do you think your world can change in a week? Just when everything is going so well (amidst looking for a full-time job in my career), how fast can everything get flipped on its head?
One week ago, my father died in his sleep. I’ll never forget waking up to my mother’s screams, as I scrambled out of bed to open the door and see his body lying there, apparently having passed in his sleep. The blur of the next few hours as the EMTs told me there was nothing they could do, the police trying to console us, just the confusion of it all. Nothing felt real. All I could do was shout at people to “help me wake up.” I kept calling different people, hoping that something would end this ridiculous and insane nightmare.
(Before I go too far, I want to take a minute and thank every single person who has reached out, prayed for, thought of, and supported my family in this time. We appreciate the outpouring of love and support more than you know.)
I didn’t want to and still don’t want to believe that the man I just sat and watched a Beach Boys documentary with on the 4th of July was just…gone. I just can’t believe that the man who told these awful dad jokes to me wasn’t going to do that anymore. This man, the one who discovered Youtube ten years after everyone else, wasn’t going to send me ridiculous videos of animals doing stupid things anymore. This man I looked up to more than anyone, he was finally at rest.
Even today, I still think I’m in a bit of disbelief. Even today, following the final internment of his ashes at the cemetery alongside his veteran brothers, I can’t believe he’s gone. Even today, my sisters and mother have been so strong, and I envy them and their ability to remain resolute. I keep breaking down, trying to understand or cope with what has transpired. I wish I was stronger now, and was able to get more sleep at night. I know that it will eventually come, but at least for now, it’s an intense despair that prevents me from much sleep.
I spoke at the service on Sunday. Despite spending the better part of two days working on what I was going to say, I simply spoke from the heart and forgot most of what I had wanted to say about my father. I feel like I let him down, especially as my sister was able to put together a beautiful ten minute eulogy while my cousin was incredible at remembering his uncle and my father in addition to the amazing poem he read by Winnie the Pooh.
Instead, mine was short. Jumbled. Rambled. Mad. Confused. Dazed. Hopeful. Lost. I think I had the quote of the entire service with my loss of words and breathy “Well, (looks at casket intently) shit.” Tears flowed, and I couldn’t get the words out that I had worked on for a few days. Even now, I still wish I’d thanked him more, and I couldn’t get that or any stories to help create this image for everyone of my father.
I didn’t want to let him down, and I feel like, every day since his death, I have by not being strong for my mother for him. I went on two interviews this week, attempting to continue down this path he was so excited for me to be on. When you figure out what your life is meant for, it’s an exciting prospect. He was the first person I called after every interview, knowing that our brief conversation was something that gave both of us clarity into each other’s minds at the time. All I wanted to do on Tuesday was call him after, and it was another gut punch when I couldn’t.
With another rejection, I feel like I’ve let him down again. I’ll get back up like he would have wanted. One of the last things he ever said to me was “You can’t give up now kiddo,” and I’m going to try and honor that. The selflessness he’s shown in his life is something I want to impart on every single person in this life. It shone during the visitation on Sunday morning, as hundreds of people showed up to pay their respects. It was mind-blowing that all of these people came to pay their respects and let my family know that they were here for us.
My father was tired. He was hurting. He wasn’t sick, at least not outwardly. He spent over half his sixty-four years working himself to the bone every day to provide for my family. The things that man could do with some wood and nails deserve to be in museums in his prime. Carpentry is an art form in the hands of masters, and while some would look down on him for working with his hands every day, I am proud. He got up every morning, even when he was hurting, and he did what he could to provide. In the dictionary definition for the word sacrifice, there will be an image of my father. He gave so much of himself to his family and his employers.
If I am half as selfless, half as humble, half as driven as he, then I know that my future children will have a good life. I want to do whatever I can to honor him. As I wrestle with the guilt of not forcing him to go to the ER the night before when he wasn’t feeling well – he argued that he just had a bug and would be fine in the morning, I will do what I can to show what he stood for. He still is my hero, even after all these years. Back in elementary school, I wrote a long essay about him being my hero. There was this hubbub at school, and he got to come – along with the other nominees – to be recognized. I still mean it to this day.
I wanted to tell stories at the funeral about the kind of man he was. Instead, I was able to croak out a few moments about how I wished I asked him more about his life. I knew enough though for a proper send-off. As directed to by the funeral director, we needed to pick three songs as a family that would give him the respect he deserved. I named off Eric Clapton, the Beatles, Queen, etc as bands and singers that I grew up listening to because my dad loved them. I bounced between songs, trying to discover what would be best and speak to me. I tore myself up looking for the right song that would teach all of us what he wanted us to know.
If you weren’t at the service, I know you’re shocked. This at a funeral!? It was my dad though, and the message is loud and clear. In fact, I think it resonates for all of us as well, that we have to move forward and continue on.
I charge ALL of you to stop reading this and go hug your parents, your significant others, your children, your friends, your family, everyone you can. Life is too short to just wait for another chance, and you have to seize it.
He had an amazing and full life, and I’m sorry I couldn’t describe it better when it mattered. He’d been all over the world, seen amazing sights, and even now, as we find more crazy things out about him as we go through his dressers, I find myself incredibly sad and distraught that he had so many more stories I never heard (He has a French paratrooper’s badge just sitting there, and I neither knew what it was nor how he got it). I see in these old photos the insane open smile I do, and it breaks my heart that I wasn’t more aware of how fast he was going. I’m glad he gets rest now.
At any rate, we laid his ashes (he wanted to be cremated) to rest today. The military honors were special and touching, and I think it helped my family cope somewhat. While none of us want to believe the last week is real, I know that today will go a small way in helping us begin to move on. All of us are handling it in our own ways, but all of us are wanting him to be at peace.
Our family is closer today than we were a week ago. Our family is hurting, but we’ll make it through. We do this for him, because he’s worth this pain. After all, he broke his back for us. We do this to remember him and what he did for us every single day.
Raise your glasses for me, as we pay our respects to the man who circumnavigated the globe, the man who always listened before he spoke, the man who taught me most everything, the man who had incredible but true stories, the man who sacrificed for everyone he loved to have everything they wanted, and the man who will never be forgotten by everyone he met, the last of a dying breed.
And Dad, you simply can’t beat this view. I hope you love it. requiescat in pace
Beautiful. Love you bro.
You made your dad and all of us proud, even with your breathy “shit.” You brought levity to a situation that was beyond heavy. Your outward emotion conveyed the depth of love for your father and the impact he had on you. No one, especially your father, would blame you for being true with your heartfelt expression of love and admiration. Let it reign down, feel the full impact, cry it out. Do what you have to do, but live your life everyday with the pride of your father in your heart. This will get easier. Your father will never fade, but you will grow stronger and deal with his passing better everyday. I meant what I said, he lives on his children. You are the embodiment of Wade McDowell. Own it sweet boy. I’m here for you.
All i can say is i don’t get why this happens but from what i just read i know you have made him proud ill be waiting to see you online and hope to be your friend for a long time your friend Isaac
Dear, sweet Garrett. While you feel you did not covey your thoughts and feelings about your dad as well as you could/should have, everyone already knew. You did not have to speak of what was on your heart for people to receive your message in total. Your reaction to such devastating circumstances is actually more common than someone that gives a beautiful speech. I pray you, your mom and sisters will find your strength and begin to heal. Find comfort in knowing he didn’t suffer for long, the shock is difficult and I pray God will give you peace and rest. Wade McDowell, you are loved. RIP.
Garret my heart breaks for you and your family. Dying is easy compared to the living without your loved one. Your dad is at peace and you have to figure out where to do from here. What your new ‘normal” is. how to fill the void in your heart, In time you do figure it all out. You never stop missing him but you will see your dad everyday in yourself and your sister. I saw the out pouring of love from family and friends at the memorial, your dad was loved, liked and respected by many. He was a lucky man. His memorial was beautiful. Your family did a beautiful job. Its okay to be sad and cry it doesn’t mean you are not strong it means your sad!! hugs to you friend, it will be okay because that’s what your dad would have wanted.
Garrett, What a beautiful expression of your love for your father. How lucky you were to have connected with your father in this way. My dad was my hero and his legacy lives on in me and through my actions just as I have no doubt the same will be true for you. This is not the end, this is merely a chapter in your relationship with your dad. Believe one who is experiencing life after loss, the relationship will continue to unfold. Sending our love to you and your family, I am your cousin Johnny Fechino.
I don’t know you or your father but I do know from your words you loved him deeply and he is very proud of the man you have become. As you look back on conversations with your dad you will realize this. Once the shock of your father’s death has lessened learn that grieving is a process and it takes a lifetime, you will never get over your grief but learn from it and grow with it. The choices you make will honor your father every day. I am a high school friend of John Fechino