There's only one simple reason why 2011 was a shit year.
I lost my dad.
I have written on this blog a few times about death, people that I've known and known of, passing on and the impact they've had on me.
But until I lost my father, I had never experienced a real loss.
Thankfully, in the end, all the drama surrounding his passing, the endlessly complicated whirlwind of human and chemical factors that brought about his death - none of that matters.
The turmoil in myself over what I could have done differently is fading. I am instead overwhelmed with unconditional love for him and I have long forgiven him and myself for all the sins and bullshit that all human beings typically cannot escape anyway, no matter where they come from or what they have to endure.
I can sincerely say that very soon I will have nothing traumatic left about my dad - I love him and I know he loved me. Nothing feels wrong or bad about his being gone save for one cold hard fact.
The simple fact that he IS gone and I can't call him up or fly down to see him. Ever.
That is the one simple reason, the one crushing obstacle that I don't think I will overcome.
2011, outside of this one simple reason, was a damn good year. Good career, loving wife and kid. I'm healthy and the future looks bright.
But God I miss him.
We were not as close as I would have liked, but I know he is so much of who I am that in the end the less than ideal closeness didn't really matter. He was hardwired into my brain and soul, and I'd like to think that I was to him as well.
Even in stretches of a month or more where we didn't call each other, I know we were still bonded. Partly it was his disease that kept me away, but also I know that we both had our own busy lives and it was okay. As Merrill men, that's just how we rolled.
I do regret a bit that I didn't call more often, but I know he's okay with it because of our unspoken bond.
And I know that wether it was destiny or choices that brought about his end, as Forrest Gump posits at Jenny's grave - Are we a feather just floating on the breeze or can we choose? Maybe it's both... In the end it doesn't really matter. What's happened has happened and it's okay, except of course that he's not here any more.
That's the one simple reason why I'm in pain and probably will remain so for a long time.
But I can also smile and know that in the ways that mattered most he was a great man, the smartest and strongest I've ever known. And that I'm going to do my best to live up to the best parts of him. The fun parts that were stubborn and righteous, but also the parts that were thoughtful and kind.
I'm looking forward to the new year, and though I'll always miss him terribly, I know I'll also have a part of my dad in my heart forever. I feel a small jolt of bittersweet joy stirring in my soul these days whenever an event pops up that reminds me of him. For example, when I sit down to a great home cooked meal or take in a fun "caper" movie like Mission Impossible 4 that I saw the other night.
It's good and it's bad, it's happy and it's sad. But in the end I treasure these little pangs of memories - and truly hope they don't fade too much. I love that I can be flipping through channels, hit a Seinfeld rerun and then suddenly be focused like a laser on a vision of my dad. I don't want to lose this, because as time passes, these flashes become a little less painful and a little more comforting.
True, 2012 will be tough because of the one simple reason, but I'm also grateful that I still really miss my dad, and that he can present himself to me at unexpected times. As hard as it is, it is also wonderful - and in that I can find some consolation.