Many of you know that at this time, 8 years ago, my dad was really sick. He had been sick for a few years, but this time it was real, he was morbidly ill. On this exact day that I write this, he started hospice only a few days before. This morning, my mom would come in and ask if I wanted to go to school because she wasn’t sure my dad would make it through the day. I’ve recounted this story in my life an innumerable amount. So, instead of reliving the trauma yet again, I’m just going to say that it still hurts. It’s a pain and an ache that never leaves completely. It may go on vacation for a while, and I’ve learned to not guilt myself for that.
However, there’s times where it comes up gently, and times where it strikes hard. Yesterday, the two-year-old that I nanny, asked me where my dad was. I had anticipated this question before, as earlier that day he started asking me where my mom was, and my siblings whereabouts and I would ask him about his family as well. Asking him about his family whereabouts has been going on for several months now. It started when we began hanging out and he would ask me where his mom was even after I had given him an answer. So, it’s like a game where we go down the list of people in his family, even his grandparents are included. Now, since he’s met and hung out with my mom recently, he will ask about her and where she is. My siblings have snapchatted me during our hangouts so he will ask about them as well. So it was only an intuitive question for him to ask, but he didn’t do it while we were playing the game, as I had steeled myself up for it after asking him where his dad was.
It wasn’t until we were in the car, on the way back to his house when out of the blue he asked me where my dad was. What do I tell a two-year-old? And to have this question when the anniversary looms in my head. It was difficult to answer, at least I didn’t have to look him in the eyes with the inquisitive look he gets.
“He’s not alive anymore,” I reply after mustering up the words. I wasn’t sure he understood me, not really sure if he knows the difference, but he went quiet. I couldn’t see his face in the rearview mirror. After a minute, I asked him where his dad was, and he said, “I don’t know,” in a downtrodden way. He may or may not know what it means, but he knows it wasn’t good. It wasn’t expected. It wasn’t how this game should go. I tried to reassure him that his dad is okay and that he is just at work, and then I tried to distract him from the conversation. Or maybe I tried to distract myself from the conversation.
8 years ago tomorrow, I lost my father to cancer. It still aches. I can still see it happening clear as the day I saw him leave his body. Looking at a lifeless body, you can tell they are not themselves anymore. It’s weird how quickly you notice the stillness, the lack of life. You mourn then, and then you mourn again when the body is buried in the ground because for some odd reason there was still some weird sense of hope in seeing the body. Like maybe it’s just a weird trick, maybe they’ll come back and inhabit the body that once was your father.
I have to pause. I can’t let people see me break down in a coffee shop. I want to get this out and published before tomorrow, but also this reflection is bringing up a lot of emotions and I worry about breaking down in group therapy. Recently, my therapist has been trying to help me unpack vulnerability and shame. Trying to encourage me to be vulnerable with her. What better space to be vulnerable than in a therapist’s office, especially a therapist you’ve been seeing for 11 months. It’s something I’ve grown sick of, being vulnerable. Brene Brown coined the term, vulnerability hangover, and it is so true. It’s exhausting to be vulnerable, especially about things that there is a lot of shame around. There’s a lot of shame for me around the topic of my dad. A lot of shame in the grief. It’s been 8 years. It feels like it should be over and done with. It shouldn’t floor me like it does. It shouldn’t be a day that looms in my head, that I get relief when it is over.
There is a lot of anticipatory build up to this day. Debating whether or not I should plan anything, debating whether or not I should take time off of work, do I want to be around people that day? Planning my grief. Then, when it is all over, I feel so much relief. Like I have 365 days until the next anniversary. I try not to feel guilty about that, and it isn’t 365 days until I think of him again, nor 365 days where there isn’t a day that forces me to remember him, Father’s Day, his birthday, it’s all a reminder. But this specific day is a day of loss, not a day of past celebration. This day meant nothing before he died. November 18th was just a week away from Thanksgiving, that’s all that date was until he died.
Now, November 18th marks a day of sadness. People say to remember a good memory of him, but it doesn’t matter what kind of memory I think of, the tears are still sad. They aren’t ever going to be joyful, no matter the thought. I find that exercise difficult. It’s a catch 22. If I think of a good memory, I am caught between trying to hold unto it for dear life, and bearing that excruciating emotional pain that comes with it. Think of trying to hug a rose bush. If you hold on too tightly, the thorns pierce deeper. If you let go, you risk losing it to the fading memory.
It’s been 8 years, and my memory fades on what he sounded like, looked like, laughed like. My memory fades on memories of interacting with him. Memories that I didn’t hold unto because it hurt too much. I try not to guilt myself for that.
I have to go to group therapy now. The other group members haven’t lost a parent. I’m not sure if I’ll let myself talk about it at all. Losing a parent at a young age is an isolating feeling. Your peers don’t know what it is like. They try to relate, but the truth is that it doesn’t translate. When you talk about it with someone, you can see it on their face that they don’t know how to react. I can feel the tension as they try to figure out what to say. Grief is a lonely thing.
Group went well. I didn’t talk about it until afterwards with one of the group leaders. I have a plan for tomorrow, down to the minute on what I’m going to be doing or where I’m going to be. I hope it will be easier to do than I think it might be. If anything, the day feels less ominous with a plan in place.
I’m not going to edit this right now, I’m just going to publish and get it out there. See you on the other side. I hope you all have a great November 18th.