SOUTHINGTON, Connecticut, U.S.A. – We are running loops in the sunlit cemetery. Laughter fills the October air as I joke with my cross country teammates, feeling free and relaxed. I smell the scent of nearby flowers. It is a regular run on a regular day. We train there all the time. As the breeze brushes by, I muse over what I might do later: movies, mall, or waste the day smiling with friends. There is no need to be serious.
Matt Albrecht as a baby with his father, Robert Albrecht. (Albrecht family photo.)
I couldn’t always run. I was born prematurely, causing my development to be delayed. I didn’t walk completely until age three.
My dad always wanted me to run. He would follow behind me and pick me up as I crashed down on the lawn. Once he chased me two miles down the beach and then threw me into the water. Running became a peaceful and irreplaceable part of my life.
When I got to high school, my dad would race out of work to watch my cross country meets.
I would see him in the stands cheering and it kept me focused. He used to say he would always be faster than I was.
That November my father died of a sudden heart attack. I was sitting on my sister’s couch and with the cracking of her voice that delivered the news, the weight of the world crashed down.
February. The tree branches are brittle and my running shoes are in the closet. I feel abandoned. In a few months I am going to snap at my friends for a small thing: not sitting with me at prom. But I will also become the captain of the cross country team.
Trauma made me more empathetic and sensitive to the struggles of others. I will help my friend through a break up by telling him, “You need to have someone to talk to in order to face your despair and sense of betrayal.”
Losing my dad has made me less judgmental. I understand that loss on any level, even after the failure of a relationship, can be devastating.
This is not a competition.
I have more perspective on what to run after, knowing that friendship matters more than winning a fight. When another friend said I was using my dad’s death as an excuse for things, I considered never speaking to her again, but we made amends the next day instead.
I realize I have gained an emotional maturity that most of my peers won’t have until something changes their lives forever.
At first, my faith in God was shaken. I questioned if an Almighty deity would take away my father so abruptly. But then, the coincidences began. My dad had always been asked to join the parish council and the first year he was gone, I was asked to join as a youth representative.
At his favorite restaurant the waitress brought out my dad’s favorite entrée, unordered. While visiting his plot on Father’s day his plaque was overrun with “daddy” longlegs spiders. My sister found his favorite type of plant, in the trash, waiting to be planted.
Father’s Day. I am running loops in the sunlit cemetery. There is no grave stone yet. I smell the scent of nearby flowers, and I want to be alone.
My father always ran with others. He was always surrounded by friends and taught me the best kind of life is filled with people. He was always running after the people he loved.
My dad taught me leadership, to never take life or myself too seriously, and that it is ok to fall down on the lawn.
I think of my 15th birthday when my dad took me to Disney World. We rode on the Carousel of Progress. The theme song was “There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow.” Around we circled through time, and walked outside into the sun.
Matt Albrecht is a Junior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.