Friday 14 December 2018

Like Meghan, I shared my dad with America - and my grief

Analysis

Patti Davis. Photo: Getty
Patti Davis. Photo: Getty

Patti Davis

Days after the services for my father, Ronald Reagan, concluded - so similar to what we saw for Senator John McCain, this week - a woman I didn't know came up to me and said: "We needed this grief. Our country needed to stop and grieve right now. Your father's passing gave that to us."

Of all the things that people said, that has stuck with me throughout the years. I thought of it again this week as I watched McCain's flag-draped coffin and had moments of déjà vu as the solemn procession of family members followed the stalwart service members entrusted with carrying his body.

My father died in 2004. The country was still broken and trying to heal from 9/11. We had invaded Iraq in 2003, and war still hung over us. The abuses at Abu Ghraib had been revealed a few months before my father died, bringing us shame at the unabashed cruelty. We needed the balm of grief. We needed a week to pause, and weep, and just be quiet.

McCain died at a time when our country has been ripped apart by anger, racism and a petulant leader's hateful rhetoric. We needed to remember what dignity looks like. Leaders are not always the ones who hold the highest positions. Leaders are those who, by example, show us what we are capable of being.

It's a strange dance, grieving on the world stage. I watched Meghan McCain closely this week; I felt every tear. I knew well the edge she was living on - the awareness that the world was watching and the moments of surrendering to the sorrow. Her eulogy at his memorial service on Saturday captured all of it - a daughter's loss as well as the solemn responsibility to own and acknowledge that her father belonged to America, too.

I laughed through tears when she told the story of her father making her get back on a horse after she fell off. My father did the same thing, although I was less injured than she was. Both my father and John McCain, who were good friends, imprinted on their daughters the most vital of lessons - when you fall down, you get back up.

As we made our final journey back across the country, my father's flag-draped coffin in the plane with us, I said to my mother: "I wish we could just keep flying around like this. Maybe we could stop in some other cities and have some more services."

I knew that the hard work, the lonely work, would begin once he was buried, and the world went back to its normal routines. When you're the offspring of a man who lived on history's stage, the balancing act is never done. You reach for your father amid the larger-than-life stories; you reach through the legacy for the man who held you as a child, while opening your arms a little wider to the millions of people who you will never meet, who feel like he parented them, too.

Meghan McCain will always be the young girl whose father made her get back on the horse after she fell off. And she will always be the woman who looked straight into the unfolding pages of history and demanded that her father's dignity be remembered.

Irish Independent

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