A gently used Chapstick and nearly empty Tic Tac container, save for 8 candies, climbed the list of my most cherished possessions a year ago, today. These inexpensive, otherwise trivial items became invaluable and irreplaceable relics in the mere amount of time that it takes a dying man to surrender his final breath.
The man was my father, and the Tic Tacs and Chapstick were his staples – ever present accessories to his personal brand. Meaning that you could count on him to have both on hand 100% of the time, no exceptions! With his passing, to my surprise, my dad’s last pack of Tic Tacs and Chapstick became comforting symbols to remind me of him each time I peer into my office armoire where they are stored.
Each day, without fail, four words loop in my head at random times throughout the day: my dad is dead.
I speak these words, not to depress myself, but to accept the reality of his passing. His pictures still evoke pain as they call attention to the void caused by his absence. I look at his picture and immediately prefer him in physical form. But symbols like my dad’s favorite mints draw a different emotion. For me, symbols elicit memories.
Something so simple as a pack of candy can transport me to any arbitrary occasion when I was in the company of my dad and I’d ask for some Tic Tacs, just because I got a kick out of knowing that he’d always have some in his possession. And, since Air Force Ones were his gym shoe of choice, that symbol brings so many memories, but especially thoughts of being a little girl standing on my dad’s feet, holding his hands and wobble walking in unison with him.
How was I to know how endearing some insignificant objects could be when instantly they become the only tangible (non-living) token of someone who you never thought you could live without. One year after the moment I dreaded since childhood, I am living on purpose and in purpose. I made a very intentional decision in my dad’s final days that I would not allow myself to be paralyzed by grief. And I decide daily to live a life that honors the love my dad poured into me and the sacrifices he made for me. These purposeful, intentional actions are not easy, nor was writing and sharing these sentiments. I write because it’s therapeutic in several ways. I write to help someone else who by reading this, might move a little more fluidly through their own grief.
Kashanna Eiland is the co-founder and Executive Director of Empowerment through Education and Exposure, a nonprofit agency that promotes post-secondary education and career opportunities for Chicago youth. She is also a Social Impact Strategist and Speaker who aims to help socially conscious individuals and organizations bring their bright ideas to fruition.