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Every year on the anniversary of my dad returning home from serving in the Vietnam war, my grandmother would call him to welcome him home. His best friend, who had grown up with my dad, was killed in the war, so I think my grandmother, Muddy, felt keenly aware of just how grateful she should be that her son survived. It was such a wonderful way to tell my dad every year how much she loved him and to acknowledge how blessed and lucky they were to have their family still intact. When Muddy passed away, I took over calling my dad every year on that anniversary to say how grateful I was that he had made it home those many years ago.

This is the first anniversary that my dad is no longer here to welcome home. I was not expecting it to upset me so badly, but I think knowing today was coming was part of why I’ve had so many nightmares over the last week. So today, I’ve been examining why it’s affecting me so hard, and I’ve concluded that there are two primary reasons.

1) It was something sweet and silly and loving and unique to my family; a good memory and a reminder of just how lucky we are; a reason to be grateful.

2) It was a way for me to still feel a connection to my grandmother, who I had loved dearly. I got to take up her mantle to make sure her son knew how loved he was by his mother and by the rest of his family.

And so part of what I’m grieving for today is the loss of of something special my dad and I shared (and of which I have real, concrete memories), but part is also that now I have one less way that I’m tethered to my grandmother. It’s like losing another piece of her, which compounds the sadness I feel about not being able to welcome my dad home today.

If, by chance, there is a heaven up there, I hope that Muddy takes a moment to welcome her son home today, and I hope they both know how much I miss them and how grateful I am to have had them in my life.