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The Mom Stop column: Memories of Dad linger after last talk

Lydia Seabol Avant
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As I sit at home, “sheltering in place” like so much of the world, it seems a bit odd to think about what life was like a few weeks ago, a few months ago or even a year ago.

It was a year ago that I talked to my dad for the very last time. It wasn’t any kind of monumental life lesson or a memorable conversation. Neither of us knew it would be our last.

I had just dropped my two older kids off at a Cub Scouts meeting and was driving down the street to the bank. It was a quick phone call. I don’t remember what was said, other than I was probably complaining about how busy life was.

A year ago, in a matter of three weeks I visited five different states and two countries, traveling from the Caribbean on spring break, to California for my grandmother’s memorial service and to New Orleans for work. In addition to the Cub Scouts meeting, my oldest daughter had soccer and softball and our youngest was in ballet.

In the last phone call with my dad, I talked about how busy we were, but how I was glad to be home. And that was it. The last words.

I wish I had known it was our last conversation, because there is so much I would have said. How much I wish I could have said more.

I know my dad told me that he loved me, because he always said that. He always told me how proud he was of me, how I was his “wonderful, amazing” daughter.

Each day now, I strive to live up to those words, not in what I do, so much, but how I talk to my children. I want them to know they are wonderful and amazing, too.

Every time we got off the phone, my dad told me “God bless you, I love you and keep saying your prayers.” I’ll admit, I’ve strayed from praying as much as I know I should. But recently, I started back. Not just on my own, but especially with my kids, because I know I need to, and because I know it would mean the world to my dad to know I was saying them with his grandchildren, too.

A year ago, life was different. Life was busy and chaotic. And then things turned upside down when we learned Dad died unexpectedly on April 6 last year. Life would never be the same, it hasn’t been the same. Certainly not lately.

I feel selfish mourning my dad this week, the one-year anniversary of his death, when we are in the middle of a pandemic where trailers parked outside of New York City hospitals are serving as makeshift morgues, where death counts soar higher every day and we have yet to reach a peak with this virus. Thousands of families are in mourning.

On one hand, I’m glad my dad isn’t around during this. I miss being able to call him, because I know he would have something wise and slightly funny to say. He always made me laugh, even in the darkest of times. But at age 71, he was diabetic and a lifelong smoker who lived in California. I’d be worried sick for him.

And so I guess there’s a silver lining to this “sheltering in place.” I grew up doing craft projects on weekends with my dad. Now that my kids are home for the rest of the school year, we finally have time to do art at home. Now that the world has shut down around us, there is no soccer, no softball. Scout meetings are done through video chat. And unlike life “before,” we aren’t going anywhere. We have slowed down. We can pause. We can pray.

And we have time to talk. One of my biggest regrets is not calling my dad sooner than April 6, because if I had, we might have discovered that he wasn’t answering the phone. We might have known something was wrong. We could have saved his life.

I know such thoughts are futile. But I take it now as a call to action. While we can’t necessarily be with our extended family members or friends right now because of social distancing, that doesn’t mean we can’t pick up the phone to call them.

And so I do. Because I know I need to. Because I want to. Because I know from experience now - you never know when a call will be the last.

Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at lydia.seabolavant@tuscaloosanews.com.