A New Relationship

“It’s been a long day without you, my friend, and I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.”

Charlie Puth

I stared at the ring on my right index finger, five small diamonds in the shape of a star, gleaming in the sun shining through my car windows, and, not for the first time in the last few days, pictured the person who’d given me this stunning piece of jewelry for my 16th birthday: “Dad, you’ve been with me all week, now just help me get through today.”

It’d been a crazy week, with this hour drive to my boyfriend’s hometown being the 14th hour I’d now spent in the car in the past 72. My boyfriend’s mom had passed away while I’d been on a trip to see friends out East and so rather than take the easy, scenic route home I’d planned, I’d split the drive into just two days. We’d only been together a couple months, but given where things seemed headed, it felt right to be there for him during this time I knew all too well.

And knowing it all too well had my thoughts swirling at the moment. Like many times throughout the past week, my mind flashbacked to my own experience with losing a parent: that feeling of the nightmare upon learning my dad had suddenly passed, the days of grayness that had followed – both the weather and my mood. And then, the funeral, which had proved the worst part of it all. I’d held it together through the wake, energized by numerous friends and family, but walking into the church for the service, locked arms with my sisters to “Amazing Grace,” had reduced me to uncontrollable sobs, which had only stopped when I’d given my eulogy.

Driving along, I thought about that eulogy. I’d spoken of all the times my dad and I’d talked – nearly four hours a day on the phone – about everything from sports to jobs to deeper topics like faith and life. At the time, I couldn’t imagine going on without those long conversations, but as I’d ended my eulogy that day, I’d told my dad “I’ll keep talking… if you’ll keep listening.”

I looked back down at the ring… and I smiled.

An online source going through a loss a few months back, noted that her grief counselor told her “Those that are able to get through grief are able to develop a new relationship with the person they have lost.”

I sought out many opportunities to get through my grief following my dad’s death. Upon my move to Tucson in particular, I signed up for mindfulness classes, and found a counselor who proved a great sounding board. Yet simply residing in a place that I knew my dad adored — Arizona — also brought comfort, and the sunrises, sunsets, and even a city ordinance prohibiting street lights so you could better see the stars, often propelled me to look up and talk to the sky; sometimes with tears and sadness, sometimes with gratitude and love, all with an assumption that someone was listening.

But the conversations didn’t start there.

The summer just after his passing, I’d been filled with pain, both physical and mental. In addition to fighting grief, I’d been sidelined from my favorite sport with a knee injury, my daily 10+ mile runs reduced to a few strengthening exercises and short walks. I’d booked a trip to the beach months before my injury, planning to run in my favorite spot, but was instead forced to slow down upon arrival. Long, casual strolls replaced my usual jogs, during which I’d posed questions to that big blue yonder of waves:

“Why this? Why now? What is it all supposed to mean?”

The answers came my final night of the trip; Or rather, what had seemed to be a response. I sat on the pier of my favorite restaurant, sipping wine, looking out at the endless blue, when the vocalist began his song:

“When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom
Let it be.”

This past summer I found myself back at that beach with more to reflect on. I’d been dating my eventual boyfriend about a month, and while he’d seemed like a good fit for me, I wasn’t feeling reciprocated. Did he feel the same way? Why wasn’t he showing it? Why wasn’t he more enthusiastic about spending time with me? Was I better off just going back to being single and not having this type of thing to worry about?

The trip had come at the perfect time. Running, walking, wandering along the sand had brought a much-needed reminder of exactly what made me tick and how I’d be happy with my life no matter what happened with this new guy. On my final night, I sat on that same pier yet again, sipping my wine, the ocean breeze enveloping me like a warm hug.

And then the music started.

“The trouble, it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you’re not alone.”

I knew. In that moment, I knew I wasn’t alone. Just like the last few years, I was carrying my dad with me, and I would continue to do so no matter what happened in my life, especially with a boyfriend, who I eventually parted ways with a couple months after his mom’s funeral due to those same reasons doubts had initially crept up.

But what was more, in the events and eventual ending of that relationship, I discovered the existence of a new relationship. I realized I hadn’t just been looking for advice from my dad or signs all this time; I’d been reciprocating, acknowledging what felt like his presence whether through a picture, a ring, or a particularly colorful or starlit sky. I’d let him guide my near every move, thinking of what he’d be proud of, what he’d want for me, and what he’d want me to learn from his passing.

I put an offer in on a house at that beach just a week into this year, and slept with that ring on every night until closing. My dad would especially cheer on this life move, I’d thought, knowing the way the ocean calmed me and how I always felt his presence there.

In the midst of my first few days unpacking I began to feel an even bigger draw to the house and the area. This didn’t feel like just a vacation home, but rather, the community around seemed to fit this Carolina girl better than any had before. It was around that time, that I put the song from the previous summer on to celebrate. The final lyric, which only then became clear, brought a simultaneous formation of a smile, tears, and goosebumps.

“The trouble, it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you’re not alone
Cause I’m gonna make this place your home.

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