Sunday, October 29, 2006, 11:21 a.m.

I was in the kitchen, opening a Snickers bar when mom’s loud cries filled the house. Before my partially opened candy bar had time to reach the table, I was by my mom’s side just in time to watch daddy’s chest rise and fall one last time.

As I sit here ten years later and think about that time, those last moments are still so vivid in my thoughts.

Ten years.

That’s hard for me to fathom.

These last ten years have been full of many tears, growth, and learning.

I’ve cried over the simple yet so complex reality that no matter how hard I try to convince myself that this is all a dream, daddy is never going to walk through the front door after a long day at work with ‘yellow cow’ milk. I’ve cried knowing that I’m starting the ‘adulting + career’ chapter of my life and daddy isn’t here to give me interview and job survival tips. I’ve cried knowing that I’m at the age to settle down and find ‘the one’ and he’ll never get to shake my daddy’s hand. I’ve cried sitting at a red light next to a road department truck, half expecting it to be daddy driving. A week ago on my way to the track, ‘Cowboy in Me’ by Tim McGraw came on and I cried like it was my first time hearing it since daddy’s been gone. I still stop singing in the same spots expecting daddy to pick up where I left off.

Tears always seem to come at the most random times, even after I’ve thought I’d never cry in that similar moment again.

Every tear-filled moment has helped me grow into the person I am today. I feel at times I have aged 30 years instead of just 10. I’ve seen more in these last 10 years than any teen/early twenties adult should have to. My family has suffered so much heartbreak and loss that the only solution to overcome is to grow. Grow every single day, even if it’s just a little. Get up, get dressed, go for a walk, go to work, sing that song at the top of my lungs – grow.

I’ll never grow out of missing daddy, I never want to. I’m afraid that if I stop missing him, then I’ll stop remembering him. I know that is something in the next few years I need to work on and strive to achieve.

Growth sometimes seems to be a slow climb, but even if I only grow a centimeter at least I’m still growing.

I could sit here for hours describing all the things I’ve learned in the last decade. Even perched up on his cloud in the sky (how I like to picture things), daddy has still managed to teach me so much. He’s taught me that when you think you’ve been pushed to your limit, you can still take more and you will be successful. He’s taught me that with every struggle comes a better outcome (even if that better outcome seems to take a while to come by). He’s taught me that life doesn’t always give you what you want, but you should never stop trying to get it.

I know that I am nowhere near done learning from daddy. I am only 23 and still have so much more to learn.

A decade of memories have been made without daddy. Like the joy I felt when I finally had my college diploma in my hand after struggling for five years. Like watching my sister have three beautiful babies and them grow into smart, tough kids. Like watching my brother step up into the role of ‘man of the house’ and spend three hours replacing the battery in the car because daddy would have never taken the car to the shop/store for that. Like watching my mom become a loving grandmother.

So much has happened in these ten years. All of which I wish could have been spent with my daddy, but I understand why.

Hug your daddies extra, my friends. I sure wish I would have.