Looking Up: Remembering My Dad During the Solar Eclipse

I remember the last major solar eclipse that passed through my home state: May 10, 1994. I was 11 years old and all the kids in my class were out in front of my elementary school looking through a solar telescope, amazed as the moon slowly blocked out the sun’s rays.

I remember that day because the solar telescope belonged to my Dad, an avid astronomer, who came to my school to share his enthusiastic love of science with a bunch of kids. That was who he was: just a big nerd with a big heart who wanted to pass along his love of science to the next generation.

My beautiful picture

Solar Eclipse of 1994

Tomorrow marks another huge event in solar history: A Total Solar Eclipse visible from everywhere in the Continental United States. My Dad had been talking about it for more than a year before he passed away. He had reservations in Wyoming along the path of totality, he purchased solar glasses a year ago, and was actively trying to convince me to take my kids out of school on their second day of class to join him. I wish I would have had the chance to make that trip with him.

It’s a bittersweet day for me as I anticipate the Solar Eclipse, wishing I could share in the excitement with my favorite amateur astronomer.

After my Dad died, we donated his biggest and best telescope to the Museum of Nature and Science. We were told it would be used to view the solar eclipse on Monday, which is something I know my Dad would have loved. We also bought about 100 pairs of solar glasses to hand out at his memorial service, along with a reminder to look up at the sky on August 21 and remember my Dad.

My beautiful picture

Solar Eclipse of 1994, Photo by Tim Mustard

It’s a good reminder for all of us, actually: Sometimes we need to stop what we are doing, put our busy schedules on hold, and look up at the sky. It’s important that we take the time to notice the incredible world around us, to marvel at the vastness of our universe, and to be grateful for the time we have on this beautiful planet.

Tomorrow, when you look up at the sky (using proper eye protection, of course!), take a minute to be thankful for the people you have in your life. Take a minute to be still and stand in awe at our amazing universe. And if you think of him, please take a minute to remember my Dad. I know I will be missing him more than usual tomorrow, but as I look up at the sky, I’ll remember him looking through that telescope, his smile wide, ecstatic about the cosmos above. Oh, how lucky I am to have had a Dad like him.

The Guilt of Moving On

Recently, I was working on a photo project and came across numerous pictures of my Dad. Strangely, I didn’t shed a single tear; instead, I smiled when I saw him smiling back at me, chuckled when I came across a silly picture, and even when I felt the sting of loss, my eyes stayed dry. Once I realized I wasn’t crying, a wave of guilt came over me: what does this mean? Why am I not upset? Does this mean I’m forgetting him? Shouldn’t I be missing him every minute of every day? I’m a terrible daughter for moving on and thinking of him less.

This realization made me cry, which was pretty ironic.

I sat with this guilt for a while and reflected. I realized something important: I’m not forgetting. I’m just starting to heal and starting to move on. With that comes some amount of guilt: I am still alive to enjoy family and friends, to love and be loved, and he isn’t. In a sense, it’s survivor’s guilt. I realized I feel like I am forgetting him if I’m not living in the midst of that grief, as if I am dishonoring his memory by moving on and beginning to live my life again.

In reality, of course, it’s just the opposite. By moving forward and embracing life, I am honoring his memory in the best way possible. After all, isn’t that what we all want after we are gone? For our loved ones to remember us fondly, but to move forward with happiness and peace in their lives? I’m sure my Dad wanted exactly the same thing for me and my family; he would never have wanted me to shed a single tear, much less to be stuck in grief forever. He would want me to live life fully, to laugh out loud until my sides hurt, explore new places, meet new people, learn new things, watch the sunset, and appreciate the stars in the sky. He would want me to be happy.

Of course, I won’t ever forget him – I doubt there will ever be a day he doesn’t cross my mind. Nearly five months after his death, I think of him multiple times a day. But I’ve realized that moving on begins when I smile at his memory rather than cry. It’s remembering him fondly, thinking of the life he lived instead of focusing on his absence.

Moving on certainly won’t happen all at once. I’m sure there will still be days when I will be hit hard by the waves of grief, and I will let them carry me under. The hope comes from realizing that I won’t drown: I will come back up, the waves will end, and I will find peace on the other side of them.

For now, I feel like I have finally come out of the fog: the storm has subsided, and in between the crashing waves I can look up, enjoy the stars shining brightly in the sky, and whisper softly to my Dad, “I miss you so much, but I’m okay.”

I’m okay.

 

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