Goodbye to Dad

Dad Taking His First Look at the Grand Canyon in 2010

Dad Taking His First Look at the Grand Canyon in 2010

Yesterday was a tough day. From the first look at the notifications on my phone, I woke up sad about the news of the terrorist attacks in Belgium. My heart goes out to Belgium, my Belgian friends, Europe and to all of humanity in general. It’s hard not to feel down about the state of world affairs today.

I headed out to ski–to teach a lesson to a little boy I had been with the past few days–and experienced the worst day on the mountain of this season. It was windy, icy and horribly bleak. Fortunately I was skiing with a joyful six-year-old who was thrilled to be on the hill, no matter the conditions.

We stopped for a hot chocolate break. I settled my little guy into his seat at the table with another instructor and his young charge. Just as I was plopping the marshmallows into the chocolate at the beverage counter, I got the call. Yes, THE CALL. The one I had always dreaded, the one that informed me of the passing of my father. It was, of course, from Mom. We spoke no more than a couple of minutes and although this was unexpected news, I got it right away. Mom and I connected on this and then we let each other go.

I almost passed my boy off to another instructor but I decided to keep him; I chose to complete my assignment, largely because we had done some serious bonding and I didn’t want the last part of his Telluride Ski School experience to be with someone new. I shed some tears with other members of my Ski School family while my little dude twirled ice cubes in his frothy drink. We then headed out to ski.

I knew, too, that I wanted to do some turns for Dad. I knew it was the ultimate escapism from such painful news but it also felt like the best tribute ever to the father I loved so dearly.

I’m doing turns for you, Dad, I thought to myself as my skis spliced through the by now creamy slush of snow. I looked behind me and saw my child bob over the uneven terrain, intent on practicing his “S” turns, smiling into the wind like he didn’t have a care in the world. This lifted my spirits and best of all it reminded me of the happiness I felt skiing as a kid, how excited I was when Dad showed up at one of my swim meets, the thrill I felt when my father let go of the bike and I pedaled on my own for the first time, finding my sweet spot of near-perfect balance without the assistance of training wheels or the guiding arms of my father.

Dad was with me on most every turn and I couldn’t help but wonder how many times he dreamed of skiing–consciously or subconsciously–these past months. Boy, how he loved skiing. Boy, how he loved Colorado and the great American West.

Dad imparted these loves to me along with oh-so much more. I’m not intending to eulogize him here but I did want to let you know of his passing–he was such a steady force in my life and I loved him so very much.

I finished out the day with my little guy and I walked away knowing that I made a difference in his life. Skiing memories are among the best in the world for just about everyone. Dad was certainly with me every step of the way for these.

I am heartbroken but strong. I’m absorbing this news with a huge measure of gratitude. It has been a challenging ski season in many ways. I knew going into it that Dad was in his final phase. Life became truly chaotic just before Christmas when Mom ended up in the hospital for emergency surgery! I wanted to go be with them after the Christmas rush but Mom thought it would be better for me to go home for an extended stay once ski season ended.

Please let Dad be well until at least the end of ski season, I thought to myself almost daily these past months. “I’ll soon be home, Dad,” I told him in a recent phone conversation.

“That will be great, Hun,” he said as his voice trailed off weakly, despite his eternal optimism.

No, I didn’t get the spring, summer and fall with him I had been counting on. There will be no special ninetieth birthday celebration for him as I had hoped. There will be no keeping him company at his deathbed. There will be no last hugs.

But I’m filled with so much gratitude. My father was the kindest, most compassionate person I’ve ever known. He gave me so much on so many levels. His love, wisdom and encouragement have guided me throughout my life. He paid as much attention to my use of grammar–both written and spoken–as my table manners or how I did my hair. He nurtured my love of France and astonished many a French friend by belting out his own passionate rendition of La Marseillaise. He was my beloved Papa-san and I will always be his darling daughter, his only girl among five sons.

I carted home my uniform yesterday as my schedule for the last week of spring break was cleared. I’ll return it tomorrow all washed and ready for next year when I go to clean out the rest of my belongings from my locker. My season came to an abrupt end. Yet my heart remains grateful.

As I often tell my students, turns are like stories: each must have a beginning, a middle and an end. I guess this is the finish for you Dad–at least in the mortal version of yourself on earth. But oh, did you make some great turns during your long life. I will honor you by attempting to make as many good ones both on the slopes and off. I’ll be home soon to formally bid you goodbye.

Hopefully I will never forget the sound of your voice, the softness of your hands and the warmth of your smile. I know that the generosity of your heart and the many chuckles we shared will be with me forever.

Godspeed to you, Frank Angelo Clemente. May heaven above be filled with lots of powder days and endlessly sunny, bluebird Colorado skies.

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