Almost every little girl believes her father is a superhero. Sadly, they outgrow that feeling when they come to an age where the sun does not shine so brightly on their father any longer. For me I still thought that, at the age of 44, when my father passed away.
My father worked hard and had to travel a lot for work, it kept him away from home, each trip seemed like an eternity to me as a child. My mother was not one to do any of the fun things my dad liked to do. So I always waited anxiously for him to return from a trip to see what super adventure was to come.
I remember gorgeous sun sparkling days wandering the deserted oceanfront in Westhampton. Balmy afternoons, digging for clams in Moriches Bay. Cold fall days bundled up, walking along the beach in East Hampton. Christmas break in front of the fire in Montauk listening to the waves crash upon the deserted shore. These memories burn radiantly in my mind, although captured by pictures that remind me of where and when, all I need to do is close my eyes and in an instant, I am transported back in time. Days of joy and laughter come flooding back to me.
By the time I was in high school, we had left the chaotic stretch of Westhampton for the oceanfront of Amagansett. My dad was right, of course, this quiet stretch of beach was what we were looking for, miles of beach all to ourselves. I relished endless hours of walks along the beach hunting for treasure with my superhero, these were some of the best days of my life.
There was never a summer, fall, winter or spring that we did not end up on the shores and in the towns of the East End. It was where we went. The fall months find so many clamoring toward New York City to holiday shop, not so for us. We shopped in the towns and villages of the East End, enjoying quiet afternoons and delicious lunches, finding treasures to bestow on those we loved for the holidays.
My children have grown up staying in the same house in Montauk on the ocean each summer of their young lives. They bristle with excitement in the days leading up to our week and race into our house to stake their claim. During our week they know nothing else other than early morning pajama walks along the beach, finding the perfect secluded piece of daily real estate along the shore, digging for hours in the sand, swimming and frolicking in the ocean, watching the sun set and nightly bonfires. Pictures capture these days and nights, which strung together, tell a story my father wrote.
On an early morning walk, in 2007, along the ocean beach in Montauk, as we headed toward the not yet visible rising sun, my father told me he was terminally ill. He had ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. My mind spun, I felt the cold sand between my toes and the ocean breeze on my face, but at my core I was numb. I truly knew nothing about what he would face, other then he would succumb to it. As we walked toward the lighthouse I learned a lot about something I didn’t want to have to know about.
In August of 2009, my dad had lived past the time his doctors had given him. We as a family set out to our house for our week. This year the preparation was intense. I had to be sure hospice care was in place to come to the house. We needed a folder of legal documents, a bag of medications, wheelchairs, breathing machines, walkers and various pieces of equipment so that we could keep him comfortable for the week and be prepared for an emergency. We set out so that he could have our week at our house this final time.
When we arrived at our house for our week, I was excited but nervous. Could we do this? We had relied on the support of our local hospice for months and now we had to trust new people with my precious fading superhero. We quickly unpacked, with my father delegating from his power-wheelchair in the driveway. I carried the last of the items into the house and came out to find my children and my father racing down South Emerson Avenue, he in his wheelchair at high-speed them running behind, all three of them laughing with glee. My nervous feeling evaporated into the wind, a feeling of validation filled my heart, knowing this was the right thing to do and the only place we should be.
The week was the best and the worst. With each passing day I knew this could be the last time I spent this week with my father in this place. The harsh reality of what lay before us grew more prevalent with each passing hour. I struggled at times to be strong like my father, being a superhero. It came easier to him then it did to me. I was encouraged by my father’s good humor at each turn, while I watched his body failing him, his mind and spirit remained as strong as ever. My father enjoyed the week completely, never seeming anxious or melancholy. His strength and valor amazed me; he kept true to his superhero image.
He told me one sunlit morning, as we listened to my children shriek with delight and laughter from the other side of the dune, that he could die in that very moment the happiest man on earth. He told me that I had given him the most precious gift he could ever receive. I laughed, stunned, he had given all of this to me, he started long before I could remember and continued to that very moment. He went on to say that the East End had the most beautiful stretches of beach anywhere in the world. The view for him was magnificent, because it is where he watched his children and grandchildren grow up. He told me of his love for my children, and me, he made me promise to return here each year for always. He told me about what should happen after he passed, and said with his first frown of the week, that the hardest part of knowing you’re dying, is knowing what you’ll miss.
When we packed up at the end of the week, my father was still grinning from ear to ear. Alone, I walked down to the beach, as he and I always had, I added a stream of tears to the ocean, inspired by painful thoughts of future days here without my father. My father endured long enough for us to go back to our house for Columbus Day weekend that same year. We spent four amazing days of making memories we all will treasure for a lifetime. We spent little time on the beach despite the gorgeous weather, spending days on the deck squeezing memories into every moment possible.
My father passed away in November. I was left with the strict instructions he had given me in August. I set out to honor them one by one. We returned for our week in our house in August, and made the best of that first trip without him. We went back again Columbus Day weekend. On a stunning sunlit Saturday, the list of people my father had instructed me to invite gathered at our house in Montauk. We shared pictures and stories and cried until we laughed. After a lunch, of all my father’s favorites, we headed to the harbor and boarded the Miss Montauk. The captain took us to a quiet cove along the ocean, the one where I learned of my father’s diagnosis. It was there that I laid may father to rest. His ashes will forever lap upon the shores of the ocean. Every time I walk toward the rising sun in Montauk, I know my father walks with me. With each new day we welcome at our house I see his smile shining along the shore.
My father wasn’t a superhero because he possessed super-human powers, but because of how he faced each day of his life. He was a man who taught me all of the important lessons in life. He taught them to me with kindness, humor, understanding, support and gentleness. He showed me true unconditional love teaching me to be brave, strong, loving generous, and kind, just like him, through his actions and deeds. He was someone who always did the right thing whether someone was watching or not, never giving up in the face of true adversity, helping those in need. He was a mentor and an inspiration to more people than he knew, and he leaves a vast ocean of emptiness in his wake.
“Our Week, Our House” by Stephanie Class is one of the many nonfiction essays entered in the Dan’s Papers $6,000 Literary Prize competition. We editors liked this entry and present it here, hoping you’ll like it. For more go to DansPapers.com/LiteraryPrize. The 2014 submission period ends on Monday, July 21 at 11:59 p.m.