25 October 2019 04:36
People say time heals all wounds, but I don't believe that. Sure, as the years have gone by, I've learned how to manage my sadness in losing you. Mom then took us to school, and as we were pulling out of the garage, you were standing there on the stairs, blowing us kisses. I cling to that last memory, comforted in knowing how much you loved us. I couldn't hear the intercom but, apparently, they were calling my name, and some friends told me I was wanted in the principal's office.
I didn't think much of it, but when I got there, Aaron was there too. Aaron said, "Why don't we just call his cell phone?" And I thought to myself, "I'm sure they've already tried that," but I didn't want to scare him, so I didn't say anything. So Aaron tried calling, but you didn't answer; it went straight to voicemail, and I got more anxious. I remember that taking my breath away, that's when I knew that it was something bad, but I tried to keep control of my emotions, mainly for Aaron's sake. Or maybe because I didn't want to let myself think the worst just yet. Mom met us at the door and we went upstairs, to yours and Mom's bedroom. We sat on the bed and that's when she told us what happened. It smelled like you, and that smell helped me fall asleep that night and for many nights to come. And Mom … she was hurting so much that day, but she stayed strong for us. I think it's the milestone events when I've missed you the most these last 20 years. I know you'd be pleased that I got a degree from Clemson, but you'd be super-pumped that Aaron played golf at SMU, where he was the team captain. I got three extra years with you, and he was robbed of that, but he's an amazing person. That's a big promotion, and I'm so excited for him! He's so much like you--he's the life of the party, has never met a stranger. Sometimes when Mom sees Aaron walking, or sees some of his mannerisms, she'll just say out loud, "Oh, that's so Payne." He and his wife Naiara got married a couple of years ago, and they're living in Orlando, close to Mom. Sometimes I'll text him and ask if he's checked on her lately – not that she needs anybody to do that. But I'm happy he's close by. Speaking of … I'm also married, to a wonderful man named Patrick. That was on Oct. 10, 2015 – and it was another day that I really missed you. I will always remember the time we watched "Father of the Bride" and we talked about you walking me down the aisle. When the day finally arrived, I knew you were there in spirit. Mom was standing next to me, holding my hand when Aaron came to get us to walk down the aisle. We all looked at each other and started to tear up, all thinking that you should have been there. But Aaron--just like you would've done--cracked a little joke to make me laugh so that I wouldn't cry all the way to the altar. We then looked at each other and said, "It's going to be a wonderful day." And it was. The doors opened and the three of us walked together down the aisle. But the joy of that day will always have a tinge of sadness. He's a lot like Robert, so smart and he can command a room. He gets things done and he's handy--every time we go home to visit Mom, she has a list of things for him to help her fix, and he does it with a smile. He's also my partner in parenting, just like you were with Mom. And when he's at home, he focuses on being a dad, wanting to spend time with William and me. I'm sure you're happy to know that I've found my soulmate, just like you and Mom did. That's another milestone I want to tell you about – my little boy. Oh, and not surprising – he loves to entertain, just like you did. Right now, his big thing is playing hide-and-seek; he thinks it's hilarious. I told Mom recently that I've never appreciated her more than in these last 14 months since I've been a mother. She pulled off a miracle with me and Aaron in that we're not 100 percent messed up. The sacrificial love that she gave us, basically putting her life on hold so she could focus on the two of us … it's incredible. When you have a tragedy that early in life, there are a lot of different paths you can go down, and she was intent on making sure we lived up to your legacy. She came to every one of my volleyball games, and she watched Aaron play golf and other sports. Of course, I think I've been replaced by William on those calls, but that's OK. It's wonderful to see her in that role. But at the same time, I know her heart hurts. She pours everything into William and she puts on a wonderful face, but sometimes I sense a little sadness there. It's bittersweet, as many things are. Fortunately, we've been comforted by all the things that keep your memory alive, and all the lives that have been positively impacted since you died. We've received so many letters from people telling us how much you meant to them, and how they re-evaluated their lives after your accident. I know you'd want to hear that. Then there's the World Golf Hall of Fame and the Payne Stewart Award and all the other things to keep your memory alive, with people realizing why your life was so significant--not only that you were a great golfer but that you strived to be a great person. Not sure if you can see it from up there, but we need more people like you. We need to know and believe in people who do the right thing. One of my best friends from Clemson sent me a message on Instagram--that's an app on social media, you would have loved it! The sister of one of her friends was part of Kids Across America, which is supported by our family foundation and Southern Company's Payne Stewart Award Grant, and now she's a teaching professional! People still ask me, even 20 years later, how I'm doing. A lot of people lose a father, and they don't have the backbone of support from their mother like we did. I remember how much you loved Christmas; the music on full-blast as soon as Thanksgiving arrived, and you wearing your Santa hat and putting up the huge tree with all the lights. After the accident … well, to be honest, that joy was missing for a few years. As much as we love and miss you, I'm so grateful for being your daughter. You showed me more love than a lot of kids get their entire lives from their dad, and I feel incredibly blessed to have been given that amount of time. It's a label I wear proudly, and it's your legacy that I look forward to sharing with William one day. He'll never get to meet you, but he will keep you alive in his heart, just as the rest of us have been doing for 20 years … and will continue to do, forever.