On August 16th, 1977, my mother wrote the following quote in my baby book.
Benjamin’s and Matt’s daddy died tonight at about 7:30 p.m. He had bought a 1942 dump truck. He was going to start his own hauling business to make extra money for his family. He picked up the truck about 5:30 p.m. at Rancho Lynn in Corralitos. He drove it back to Aromas and took it up to Seely Ave to have Rick and Pam Fischer look at it. He knew the breaks were bad. But he thought he could make it in 1st gear down their driveway. Well he couldn’t. He tried to jump out and I’m not sure what caused his death. He died enroute to the hospital. Elvis Presley died the same day. I loved him. Sept. 1st would have been our 9th anniversary.
I was fourteen months and six days old on that day. That day which is still the most significant day in my life. A day that erased an entire person from my life, from my memory. Because of that day I don’t know my own father. I don’t know the sound of his voice. I don’t know the touch of his hands. I don’t know him at all. Often I forget he even existed.
Of course, logically I have always known that he existed. If people asked me about my father, I knew what to tell them. But emotionally, there has always been a gap. A gap between my experience and that of everyone else he touched. I have always been acutely aware of the impact my father’s death had on our family. The grief that was left behind. How that grief, old and muted, still exists today.
This is why my son Thomas, my father’s first grandchild, is named after my father. To honor their love or my father. To honor the love of his sisters, my aunts. To honor the love of my mother. Why it was so important to take little Thomas to see his great-grandmother so soon after he was born. So important to put that Thomas in her arms. To remind all of them that while so much was lost, not all was lost.
And yet, because of that day, I ask myself questions like, “who would I have been if he had lived? Would I like that version of me? Would I be married to Liz? Would I have Thomas and Caroline?” Dangerous questions. Crazy questions. Questions that make a tragedy just a simple fact. Because, honestly, at times that’s what it is to me.
Then there are moments, moments that happen every day, like when I walk through door after work and little Thomas begins to tell me a story, bobbing his head up and down, and walking in a circle while Caroline hops towards the door yelling “Da-eee, da-ee”. The four year old Thomas. The two year old Caroline. Both older than I was on that day. The thirty-three year old me. Older than he was on that day. Them living a moment with their father that I never had with mine. And me living a moment with my children that my father never had.
In those moments, I see me, the little me. I see what I lost. Also, I see him. I see what he lost. What he misses everyday, even now. In those moments I mourn for him. In those moments I feel it, the grief that has surrounded me and my family for thirty-two years. I feel the love they all have for him.
Thirty-two years ago today Thomas Dwight Henry died leaving behind a wife and two young sons. And a legacy. This one’s for you dad. I may not have known you, but I know you.