I remember being in Journalism school some 20-plus years ago and having an assignment that seemed particularly dark at the time. Over the course of a week, we were instructed to write our own obituary. I don’t remember what I wrote about in mine, but I’m fairly certain my 19 year old self dreamed big.
The assignment was intended to help us understand storytelling from the personal perspective. To remember that each and every person we write about is, in fact, a person and not an emotionless robot. It was also intended to teach us about details and how to capture them while staying concise with our writing.
Never in a hundred years did I think I’d write another obituary, never mind for someone I knew. I also didn’t fathom that I would be the only one writing an obituary for this person. I thought someone somewhere might write something or post something about him so that it could be seen or shared.
But here we are.
Alan Carl H. died, presumably peacefully, on November 30, 2019. He left behind a wife, Iona, and a grown daughter, Erin.
Born March 1951, Alan was one of five children and lived most of his childhood in Peoria, Illinois. He graduated from Central High School and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. upon graduation. At 23, he met Debra and married her soon after. Alan and Debra welcomed a daughter, Erin, in February 1976.
Alan spent his entire career in or at the railroad, evolving from railyard operator to eventually overseeing the railyard. After earning his MBA, Alan would eventually transition from railroad company to federal employee and investigator for the Federal Railroad Administration, where he worked until 2018.
His role with the FRA took him and his second wife throughout the country, but most recently outside of Indianapolis. A lover of dogs, Alan and his wife enjoyed their canine companions throughout the years.
Alan is preceded in death by his mother and father, and is survived by his siblings, his wife, and his daughter.
That’s it. That’s all I’m able to write about my father’s life and his death. I don’t know many details about his life other than the 43 years I was in it as his daughter, and even those details are fuzzy because the man I knew and the man others saw seemed to not match up.
My father and I weren’t necessarily close. I was never a Daddy’s Little Girl and I honestly didn’t know that he loved me or was proud of me until recently. That seems and sounds like an awful thing to say, but it’s taken 2 1/2 weeks of consoling and counseling from friends of my father to get a bigger picture of what Alan was really like.
And what he was like, was quiet. He didn’t like attention nor did he want to be the center of it. He loved hard, but in a way that wasn’t often easy to see.
I remember the one and only time I truly felt like my father loved me and was proud of me. It was my wedding day and just before he walked me down the aisle, he turned to me and said “I’ve never seen you look more beautiful than you do right now.”
Writing it now brings tears to my eyes.
My father liked to be invisible. He preferred to blend in and not burden. He was the wind beneath a lot of wings to a lot of people.
To me, he was a mystery wrapped up in an enigma. I credit my soft Swedish features and my tough outer shell to him. I owe my over-achiever personality to him, in part because I would work and work and work in order to hear that he was proud of me.
My father’s death has opened up a hurt inside of me I think I’d long-since buried. As I watched others talk about him and his loving heart and soul soon after his death, I didn’t recognize the Alan they were talking about. That confusion caused a level of personal heartbreak from which I’m still trying to recover.
It’s clear to me now, I didn’t know my father very well as the adult versions of ourselves. I wish I could turn back time, knock down walls, and practically force conversations with him so I could understand him more. I regret that I didn’t beg him to tell me more about what he was going through or that I didn’t encourage more vulnerability.
In dying, my father taught me more about living.
I spent most of my life not really understanding the man who helped bring me into this world. I knew he had a past and that it explained a lot about how he showed love.
In dying, my father taught me how important it is to say what you feel, when you feel it, and to those you feel it to. His death taught me the importance of love, laughter, and loved ones. Perhaps most importantly, his death reminded me how tragically important it is to actually give a flying f*^& about things, people, or situations.
So, to you, Dad, I raise a glass of scotch and the sword that is my writing instrument, because you and I are going places…