25. Erin

Erin Christine Mitchener would be 47 today. Because of the closeness of her birthday to Thanksgiving, I’ve always associated one with the other.
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Some of our friends may not know that in addition to our 30-year-old son, I also had a daughter, born to me and my first wife. Erin was killed by a drunk driver in 1992, one month after her 21st birthday.

Because she never lived here, our Chicago friends didn’t know her. Carole and I moved here from St. Louis the summer Erin graduated from high school and headed to the University of Kansas.

I’ve never figured out how to comfortably introduce my daughter to friends who don’t know about her. Part of me asks, why do they need to know? It will just make people feel sad and uncomfortable. But then, my friends should be aware of important parts of my life, right? And Erin was – is – part of who I am.

26 years after her death, I’m not in active mourning. The pain has scabbed over, like a wound. The scar is still there; it always will be. But now I can touch that scar, and talk about it. And talk about Erin.

So on her birthday, that’s what I want to do: talk about Erin.

In a couple earlier Old Guy posts, I mentioned Erin. It felt good to smile and laugh at the memories. Last year, I enjoyed writing about Thanksgiving meals during the 12 years I was single, and how Erin and Thanksgiving are forever linked in my memory.

Because her mother and I lived a few blocks apart, Erin would usually stay at my apartment twice a week. I was aware of what was going on with school, and I knew her friends. When she was with me, it gave me reason to cook a real meal. Our weekend morning tradition was a big breakfast: bacon & eggs or pancakes or waffles. I still love big breakfasts.

I met her first date. He picked her up at my apartment, and he didn’t like me. She said that I was so big, he was scared of me. Good. I liked that.

She was a normal teenaged girl, strikingly confident one minute, hopelessly insecure the next. She did very well at an academically challenging high school. She played jazz saxophone, and she was active in her church group and high school activities such as Students Against Drunk Driving (ironically) and Youth Crisis Hotline. She enjoyed writing, and shared my very sophisticated, razor-sharp sense of humor.

At KU, she began to blossom intellectually and emotionally. She was making all four of her parents very proud.

At 21, Erin was still a work-in-progress. She was unfinished. In the middle of her junior year at KU, she’d declared a dual major in psychology and women’s studies. I used to tell her that was a great career combination because there were so many crazy women in the world. She never thought that was as funny as I did. (Of course, I kept repeating it.)

Who knows what she would have become? Clinical or research psychologist? Activist? Writer? Educator? Social worker? Truck driver? Maybe she would been permanently unfinished, always evolving. That would have been okay, too.

And some selfish, personal questions will never be answered. Would she have married? Would she have had a big wedding? Would I have worn a tux and proudly, happily and sadly walked down the aisle with her on my arm? Would I have liked her husband? Or her wife? Would s/he have liked me? Would I have teenaged grandchildren today?

During the 12 years between my first and second marriages – not the  best time in my life – Erin was the only immediate family I had. She was my anchor. She probably didn’t realize that. I’m not sure I did.

Today, my immediate family looks different. I have a wife of 32 years (not to be confused with a 32-year-old wife), a 30-year-old son, and a very loving daughter-in-law. I enjoy talking about all of them with my friends. And while it’s obviously not the same talking about a daughter who died, I also enjoy talking about Erin. It makes me remember how much I enjoyed being her father.

I want my friends to know that I feel very lucky having been the father to both kids, and now father-in-law to a daughter-in-law. A lot to be thankful for.

20 thoughts on “25. Erin

  1. I remember Erin as a kid and the shock of her terrible departure. Such a lovely remembrance of such a lovely human. Well done in all ways, Dad.

  2. Larry – That was a great tribute to Erin. She was certainly a person I would have liked to have known and her loss was not only a loss to you but to all of us who may have had an opportunity to meet and get to know her.
    Your ability to share this and write so openly shows your strength and your love for her. I have often wondered how I would respond to a similar tragedy in my family. I only hope and pray that I don’t have to find out. If I do ever have to face this, your tribute to Erin help me to deal with it.

  3. Larry, thanks for sharing your good and hard memories with us. What you have written here resonates deeply even though we’ve not endured loss in this way and we wish you continued healing realizing that the scab will always remain. Chances are that the deep wounds will on occasion be susceptible to being felt at the surface again.

    We appreciate your sensitivity and for being courageous in sharing your good memories of Erin.

  4. I remember Erin from reunions in Doniphan (I joined the family via a marriage to one of Leo’s grand daughters about 8 years prior to her tragic passing) and think of her whenever we return (along with others who have passed). Shame on me for never reminiscing with you, as we have a 21-year-old at KU, however, I always think of her when we return. That was my brief bond with her, me being a recent KU alum back in the late ’80s – early ’90s. Have a Merry Christmas. Our Christmas may be slightly leaner since April was not able to take any of your money at poker this summer. Hope to see you at Patsy’s in July ’20.

  5. This is a remarkable tribute to a unique person who meant so much to your family. The description of her vitality and compassion have reminded me that in spite of the troubled world we now live in there are beacons of truth and good that linger long after they are gone. It also tells me that you have a remarkable ability to honor her with grace and dignity. Thank you!

  6. Larry, what an important expression of your love for Erin. I am privileged to read your words. Those of us who had children die are always worried that we will make our friends uncomfortable, yet the truth is that the sharing bonds true friends .

    I know that scar. I carry it also. But on every important celebration or holiday I miss David again. Being able to express it in some form helps, for you it is writing about her. What I do on his birthday is burn some rosemary in a dish with stones – for remembrance and say a few words. You have shared words that help me feel connected to you and less alone in loss.

  7. Larry,

    You have spoken of Erin over the years that we have known each other. You told Carol and I about Erin’s death in your house on Franklin in River Forest. To hear that she would be 47 today startled me. Not that it should have, it has been 26 years.

    This is a very touching blog. I always hesitate to ask too many questions about Erin because it is such a personal, deep loss. Thank you for sharing this .

    Scott

    1. Larry, can hardly find adequate words to express my admiration of you for this tribute to Erin. Your open-hearted generosity for all readers in writing of such pain then, solace now, and the memory forever is a spiritual and emotionally charged account of your journey since her death. I learned so much about you and your life. Thank you!

  8. Thanks for sharing about Erin. She clearly had many gifts like her dad. And it gives me a good reason to give my own Erin an extra hug when I see her next.

    1. I remember Erin from reunions at Doniphan too. What a shock her sudden passing was. Thank you for telling us about her. I recall her wonderful smile, and cherish her place in our group family portrait from that last year she was with us. Good for you for sharing her with those in your life who never met her. She is a part of you, and they need to know.

  9. Thank you for sharing that, Larry. Your love for Erin shines through each line. I am reading it on my first “angelversary.” One year since Amy died. And, like you, it is so close to Thanksgiving. Someone asked me, “If God said to you: ‘You can have Amy for only 41 years and then you must give her back, or you cannot have her at all,’ what would you say?” Of course, we know that answer. I’d gladly take and give the love I have for those 41 years. I still love and feel deeply loved by Amy and I talk to her and about her any chance I have. She was such a huge purpose in my life and the hole in my heart is still very big and fresh. Your words have been cathartic for me. Sending hugs to you.

    1. Larry,
      What a touching tribute. They say the worst thing that can happen to a person is to loose a child and I certainly believe that.
      You paint a wonderful portrait of her.

  10. What a lovely tribute to a woman I wish I could have met. As usual with your writing, I cried and I laughed, but I am so sorry for your loss. Please bring Erin up anytime you wish. Steve and I would love to know more about her.

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