My only memory of my dad passing away is from the funeral. I was a preschooler, squirming in my seat before the service, and my slightly older cousin scolded me about my inappropriate behavior. I remember thinking that it was my dad’s funeral, and he wouldn’t care if I squirmed.
Losing a parent when you’re so young leaves a huge void in your life. It’s only natural to wish that they were still around — and to think that perhaps they are. I always had some vague feeling that maybe my dad was watching over me, or at least I hoped so. But as life’s traumas and challenges left me feeling overlooked and isolated, I began to wonder.
Over the years, my connection with my dad faded into the background, but it didn’t remain there. I don’t remember what sparked the idea, but somehow I decided that he watched over me when I went on vacation. And my mom agreed.
I began traveling with my mother when she was 79 years old (she’s now 91) and I was in my mid-30s. Whenever Mom and I get into a tight spot on a trip, I ask Dad for help, and somehow everything works out. It has become a running joke. If we’re having trouble finding somewhere to stay for the night, Mom tells me to ask Dad for a hand. She can’t do it, you see. She always says that he isn’t watching over her; he’s just there for me. Whether this is true I don’t know, but I always smile and agree when Mom turns to me and says, “Ask your dad for help.” I laugh and put in my silent request.
All of this may seem like a bit of fun, but a sliver of hope persisted underneath. Then my sign came, when we were driving across Cape Cod. As usual, I went back and forth on choosing a destination. Finally, I selected a National Seashore beach whose beauty I’d read about. When we stopped for gas, I found myself asking the attendant for his opinion. The words just came out, even though I’d already decided. He told me not to go to that beach but rather to take the Old King’s Highway, better known as Route 6A. He said it was a beautiful drive.
As we drove, I began to regret following his advice. The route wasn’t particularly scenic, and the day was quickly getting away from us. As we passed the Cape Cod Museum of Art, I asked Mom if she wanted to stop. “Not really,” she replied, “unless you do.” I turned around, hoping that something might make the detour worthwhile.
We entered the museum and headed for the gift shop. Mom adores buying little presents for her friends, and she was happy browsing. I gravitated to an area off to the side and was drawn to a small painting. It was a collage that incorporated a quote: “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.”
A few tears welled up. I’m not one to be overcome by emotion, but in that moment, the feelings came too fast and too strong not to be real. I was overwhelmed by the sense that this beautiful little painting was a gift and a sign from my dad not to let life’s past hurts define me — my world would change, too. That he was, indeed, there with me, whether I was a little girl squirming in her seat or a grown woman finding her path. And that somehow he’d arranged for our detour. I bought the painting, clutching it close.
I don’t know if my dad is really watching over me or if any of this is true. But it’s what I choose to believe. And every time I see my painting, I think of him and smile.