Birthdays Keep Coming Even When They’re No Longer Here

Exploring the Aftermath of Love and Loss. This is the fourth in this series.

A birthday is just a date on the calendar, but every date is someone’s birthday somewhere. When that someone is no longer with us their absence can turn the day into one of sadness. Remembering our loved one, the life they lived, the happiness they brought, and the love they shared, can make all the difference.

Today is my father’s birthday. He would have been 90 years old. Celebrating his birthday is bittersweet because any thought of him evokes sadness and grief, but on the other side there’s joy in remembering the life and love we shared.

I unexpectedly lost him at the tender age of 15 when he succumbed to a heart attack one lazy Sunday morning at home, and life was never the same. As a teen, I was aware of heart attacks and knew they were bad, but I had no idea of the extensive damage they caused, not only to the one who’s heart was attacked but to the devastated family left behind. It’s been a lifelong lesson in loss that started too early.

Our Shared Birthdays

Dad and I celebrated our birthdays together because mine is on the 17th. He called me his “birthday present.” We were born 30 years apart and are the only members of my nuclear family born in winter. Everyone else has a summer birthday, three of them just two weeks apart. Lots of parties in July! But in the dead of winter only he and I shared the joys of birthday cake and presents together and it was very special. I think of him today and reminisce on what a gift he was not only to me but to everyone who had the privilege to know him.

Ted “Bunky” Kasica was a good man. It’s been 44 years since he passed and I don’t think anyone who loved him ever got over it. In honor of his birthday I’d like to tell you about him.

A Military Man

Dad was the 11th of twelve children born to Polish immigrants in South Boston. His own father unexpectedly died when he was just three years old. He never finished high school but enlisted in the United States Army, where he served as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division. In spite of his humble roots, his early life was one grand adventure. The Army took him out of South Boston and stationed him in Germany and Austria. His love for that life is clearly documented in the few photographs I have of him as a young soldier: Parachuting out of airplanes, skiing in Austria, and competing as an amateur lightweight boxer. We have more photos of my father from this stage of his life than what came after. Back in the ’60’s and ‘70’s people didn’t always have a camera at hand and we were too busy experiencing life to document it. I still haven’t figured out if that’s good or bad, but I wish we had more photos of him.

Once home from the Army he soon met my mother and fell in love, married, and settled down at the age of 28 to a quiet life as a cabinetmaker, with four children, a mortgage, and heart trouble. I never knew exactly what the problem was but he was on Digoxin and saw a cardiologist so it most likely wasn’t good. His family suffered rheumatic fever when he was a child and most were left with heart damage, so maybe that was it. When I developed Wolf Parkinson White syndrome in my 40’s my electrophysiologist surmised that’s probably what killed my dad. We will never know, and there’s no use wasting time wondering about it.

A Family Man

Some of the few pictures we have of my Dad: in the Army, as a young man out on the town, with his brood of four, and holding the biggest catch of his life.

My father was a man who loved his family, his children, and spent all of his time with us. He was an avid fisherman and loved boats. His skill as a cabinetmaker allowed him to refurbish a couple of old wrecks and we spent many evenings and weekends skimming a pond, bass fishing. Other nights we swam in his favorite fishing holes while he fished from shore, casting for catfish. Winter presented no obstacles, because he loved to ice fish, and I recall many afternoons out on the ice practicing my skating in the bitter cold while he dangled for a catch.

My mother worked nights and Dad watched over us. We played games, swam in the city pool, worked in his wood shop, tended to his garden, and listened to Red Sox and Bruins games, or the classical music he loved: Bach, Beethoven, Mozart. I grew up in a musical house. The last gift he gave me was an acoustic guitar, and he took me for lessons every Thursday night. It was precious time alone with him, sharing something we both loved. Foolishly, I gave up on the guitar shortly after he passed. I’ve regretted it ever since.

A Working Man

My dad went to work every day, six days a week, to a job he didn’t always want to go to, but he shouldered his responsibilities like a man and made sure a paycheck came home with him every Friday night. He was a daily presence in his children’s lives, doling out love and fun generously, and discipline reluctantly. He shared what he loved with us, and taught us an appreciation for many precious things: Nature, music, family. He gave of himself, his time, and his talents. Toys and trinkets would never make up for his loss.

A Great Man

We thought we’d have him forever. His death was a shock. But he left us with something not everyone gets, no matter how long they have their father: The blueprint for how to be a a good person, a great man.

On this day I carry him in my thoughts and heart, sharing my memories with the world because you didn’t have to know him to know he was special, and although he is no longer with us I celebrate his birthday.

Happy Birthday in Heaven, Dad!

About This Series

This is a new series for this blog. The last few months – no, the last few years – have been difficult for me. There’s been a lot of loss and change, most of it unexpected, some of it for good reasons. I’m generally an optimistic person but even I have my breaking point. I’ve run into it a few times lately. This has left my mind churning and I find myself with so much to say, so much to work out. Writing has always been a means to my seeking clarity, so I decided to use my blog to figure things out. Welcome to The Grief Diary. Please take this journey with me. We can communicate with one another in the comments, perhaps find healing together. Subscribe to this blog to receive email notifications of new posts. Thank you.

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