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June 17, 2016 12:58 PM EDT
Jennifer Grace is is an award-winning actor and author of the blog Young Widow of Brooklyn where she shares her journey as a widow and single parent.

Whether I’m too overwhelmed by trying to run a household and raise a child to notice, or there is some part of my subconscious that pushes down any acknowledgement of the passing days, I can’t say for sure. All I know is that every holiday since you died has snuck up on me. I’m never prepared for it. I haven’t been able to dig down deep enough inside myself to muster any cheer or excitement or celebration. All I have now are days and days and days filled with our son, meals, butt-wiping, dishwashing, bill-paying, and trying to sleep.

As such, it only just occurred to me that Father’s Day is upon us. Father’s Day, a holiday that you only got to celebrate twice—first with a wriggly 9 month old and pancakes at your favorite Brooklyn vegan diner, a scant three months before you were first admitted to the hospital with a mysterious illness; your second at home, too sick to risk catching something from another restaurant patron or a careless food handler. For that Father’s Day, I bought you an iPad mini, something you could take with you when you checked back into the hospital the following week for a second round of chemotherapy and a second stem cell transplant and the wait after to see if this time, finally, your bone marrow would get back to doing its job and let you come home.

Now the calendar has rolled over once again, only you’re not here. Now that our son is finally old enough to happily chirp, “Happy Fava’s Day!” at you and draw you a scribbly homemade card, you’re not here to receive it. The person who made me want to be a parent in the first place is gone, and we barely got a chance to congratulate each other on the magical feat we’d accomplished with making this child.

You died nine months ago. I still carry your wallet chain. The gentle clink of it reminds me of the sound of you walking next to me. I wear your boxer briefs, t-shirts, the wedding ring I bought for your 40th birthday, just a few months before you died. I’m trying to absorb what’s left of you—or rather the things you left behind, if that’s any different—into my skin. I don’t just want you back. I do, of course I do. But I also want to be you. I grab onto all the things I can, the things I remember you saying, the way you were gentle and patient.

And then there’s our boy, funny and eccentric and sweet, and with his dad’s body in miniature form. At the painful times that I actually do allow myself to see you in our son, it feels like I am raising your ghost.

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When I decided to have a child, I reasoned it this way: I had met a person so good, so honorable and kind and decent that I felt compelled to populate the world with more of him. I never had faith that I would be a great parent, but I thought that with you my shortcomings would be offset a bit. That was the plan, anyway.

And now here we are, this little boy and me. This boy, like his father, who I am awed by and don’t feel worthy of, who is only good and sweet and happy, saddled with me for a mother—a woman struggling to smile at him, to say yes when he asks me to play, exhausted and heartbroken. I worry that I am not good enough, or just plain not enough, that I am out of my depth. I have a little boy who loves climbing and wrestling and talking at length about vehicles of all variety. Goddamn it, he needs his father as much as I do.

I try not to go down the rabbit hole of all the ways our son’s life would’ve been enriched if he’d had more time with his dad. You with your patience and meticulousness, who were always more measured and methodical than me and my tornado of lost keys and splattered grease stains. I try not to wonder whether losing his dad so early is the reason that our son asks me several times a week, “Mommy, you will not leave me, right?”

Today, at the park as I watch our son climb and laugh and chase older kids yelling, “Hey guys! Guys! Watch this, guys!” I wonder what you’d think watching our son play. Then I hear him call out a question to me from the top of the slide. I’m sure I’ve heard him wrong; what I think I hear must be distorted by thoughts. But then he asks again, “Where’s my daddy?”

I freeze. I can’t look at him. Instead, I look off into the distance, holding my breath and hoping against hope that he will be distracted by some kid, something, anything, and not ask again. But he does.

“Where’s my daddy?”
“What?” I respond as casually as I can and dumbly shrug my shoulders as if he’s speaking to me in Mandarin. He’s not fooled; he’s no dummy.
He looks at me. He points his finger to the middle of his chest and repeats again as if I’m slow, “My daddy. Where is my daddy, Mommy?” And he slides down the slide to me.

I kneel down and I say softly, “Baby, do you remember what I told you? Daddy got sick. He’s not here.”

He nods. “Daddy got sick. A long time ago we used to visit Daddy at Up Sinai.”

“Up Sinai” is what he’s called Mount Sinai Hospital since the first time he visited you there almost two years ago. “That’s right, honey. We did. Hey, would you come over here? I’d really like to have a hug right now, okay?” He grins and scuttles over, positioning himself on my lap as I sink my butt down the concrete of the playground and wrap my arms around him. “Your dad loved you so much. He misses you very very much,” I say, willing myself not to cry.

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Then he wriggles out of my grip and he’s off again, chasing the big kids and happily calling out, “Hey guys! Guys!”

I can’t get up, so I sit there on the ground by the slide as kids and their dads—suddenly I notice just how many dads are there—laugh and chase each other. I watch our boy race around giggling and screeching.

I’m watching our son. I’m thinking about you. I’m thinking about the little boy, about our son’s age, who died so tragically this week vacationing in Florida with his family. I’m thinking about the sons and daughters and fathers and mothers whose lives have been cut short by gun violence in a Florida nightclub.

I don’t know how I can celebrate Father’s Day. I don’t know how any of us struggling with the grief of losing a partner, a father, a child, can do it, or if we will be able to do it again. But I see our son, I hear him asking me earnestly and innocently to tell him about his father and I do know this: I celebrate the man I married, the man who fathered this child that he never really got a chance to know. I look forward to years and years of sharing with our son all the wonderful ways that you were unique, loving and loved. I can’t celebrate the day, but I can celebrate you, and everything you gave me. Because when I look at our son, I know this: what you gave me was everything.

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