Dedan K. Bruner
A Tribute to George Barnette
As I sat across from the strange man, all I heard was a blurred mix of clichés and familiar phrases. This grief counselor was feebly attempting to guide me on how to recover from the sudden death of my father. Nothing he said about “moving forward” resonated with me, as it was taking every ounce of strength I had to get up and function each day. Just 3 weeks after my father was tragically killed on the job, I was in a new city, at a new university, sitting across from this stranger. While he rambled on about coping with grief, my mind drifted back to a year before, when my father was moving me into my first college dorm room. I thought about how we spoke on the phone several times a week throughout my freshman year, chatting until early morning hours, like best friends. We were not just “like” best friends, he WAS my best friend. He was the only man I had ever felt safe with; who loved me unconditionally, accepted me as I was, and understood me. He made everything better. And now, as I was at my worst, my superhero dad wasn’t there to save me. He wasn’t there to fix all my broken pieces as he had done so many times before. I was a colossal mess without him. I tuned back into the words of the grief counselor just in time to hear him say, “I know right now you feel like you are never going to find a man that loves you the way your father did, and that’s probably true. But one day, you will find and marry a man who will love you in a new way and love your daughter the way your father loved you!” I simply said, “Okay,” got up from the couch, and never returned to that office.
Looking back on that solitary counseling session, I have to assume that the man was either clairvoyant or he was pretty reckless with his practice. There was NO WAY the man could guarantee that what he was predicting would come to pass, and yet somehow it did. I spent many years angry with that nameless counselor because I spent almost a decade dating with the intention to fill the void my father left behind; each disappointment more devastating than the last. It took years of therapy and life-coaching to actually be healed enough to experience the joy of a romantic relationship. My overwhelming fear of losing men I loved, drove me to be an emotional mess in relationships.
When I reconnected with George, after being estranged for about six months, from our 9-year friendship, when I moved out of state, I knew that we always shared a deep connection, which would be a good foundation for a relationship. We originally met just weeks after that grief counseling session. He became a part of my “new normal” at my new school, where I worked hard at creating a new life for myself. He made me feel safe, as my dad once had, and as the years went by, we became close, platonic friends. I always knew he was a great guy, but never thought he could be “the one,” until our first date, nine years later! After a few more dates, I knew that he had the qualities that would make a great husband and father. It only took about nine months past that point before we said, “I do” in front of 12 family members, under one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Our whirlwind romance was a natural wonder to most of our friends and family, who just didn’t see it coming, but believed in us so deeply as they witnessed our love grow, so rapidly. And as our love quickly grew so did the little sprout in my belly, that would eventually be our daughter.
By now, the words of the grief counselor were far removed from my mind. Everything was happening just the way he said it would, in that solitary session. I had learned to “live” without my father physically present. I learned how to survive holidays, and every major life accomplishment, without him. I learned how to date without the benefit of his sage advice. When I graduated from undergrad and law school, my godfather was there, in his stead, and family rallied around me with words of reassurance expressing how proud my dad would have been. When I got married, I asked my favorite uncle to give me away. It was beautiful, but not quite perfect. I never “got over” the loss of my dad, because you never actually do. Each of those experiences left an empty space in my pleasant memories of the day, where my father was supposed to reside. Each faded photo felt incomplete as the years went by. Despite the decade that passed, there was still an empty place in my heart that only his presence could fill.
And then it happened. I was laying in the hospital bed recovering from delivery, and I looked up at my husband cradling our newborn in his arms. My tears started to flow. Ten years had passed since that grief counseling session. Startled, George inquired about how I was feeling. I didn’t have the words to express how overcome with emotion I was, because that lingering hole was suddenly being filled by a love I had never felt. The love my husband had for me, and the baby girl he was holding, canceled out any previous heartache I had ever felt. In that very moment, I realized that no other man was ever going to love us, the way this man was going to love us. I was filled with joy and gratitude for the gift of my husband’s healing love. We celebrate our 8-year wedding anniversary this month, and I couldn’t miss this opportunity to celebrate him. He is an amazing husband, father, and man, and I honor him, this and every year, as I honor my late father, Samuel Harris, Jr; my Superheroes!