Tomorrow will mark the one year anniversary of the the day my dad died..the day he died and I didn’t know he would die and I wasn’t there and I couldn’t do anything about it. He took his last breath with my mother holding his hand, while my brother and I desperately raced to be by his side from miles away. The first Hospice meeting we had a few short months before they told us his death might be quick, but no one expected it to be so quick. Today marks the one year anniversary of the day my mom called to tell me my dad was having a bad day. Though he had cancer for two years and had stopped treatment a couple months before, I thought maybe this was when the real dying would start, that it would take days, maybe weeks. It took less than 24 hours. I can’t seem to forgive myself for my ignorance, my naivete, that kept me from leaving sooner.
Tomorrow will mark the one year anniversary of my grief. And on that I want to say this: I don’t feel better. I’m not grateful for this tragedy. I don’t appreciate life more because of it. In fact, I’m bitter. I’m still angry. I’m not accepting. I haven’t moved on. I haven’t let go. I have no peace, no clarity. But I have questions. So many questions. And regrets. And there are still many days when I can’t quite convince myself that this horrible thing actually happened. And that it happened so long ago now. And that I’ve managed to live a year without my dad here. I get by, of course, but there is no silver lining I can find. He suffered some, but not enough to welcome death. And yes, we all die, and that is our fate and maybe there is some comfort to be found in that certainty, but I cannot find the comfort in his absence, no matter the inevitability of his passing.
“Rigid, the skeleton of habit alone upholds the human frame.” -Virginia Woolf
A lot has happened for me in this year, including starting a graduate school program and applying to and being accepted to law school. Some might guess my dad’s passing inspired this. It didn’t. In fact, my dad would’ve been the first one to raise an eyebrow when learning of my plans to become a lawyer. He would’ve then wholeheartedly supported me and told me how brilliant I was and how I would be the best lawyer ever, but it was certainly never a dream he had for me. So, I have survived, I have continued my life. My aspirations still cannot quell this sorrow. I long to hear my dad’s voice and all that he might say about my plans. I can imagine what he would say. I can hear it in my mind. It is not enough. It may never be enough.
My daughter turned 3 in November. She still talks about her papa and I’m glad for that, but I know his memory is fading for her. And sometimes it fades for me. I try to remember what he was like when I was a kid, when I was young and as in love with him as my daughter is with me and my husband now; when my parents were rock stars in my eyes and my need and desire for their company was stronger than anything else. I try to remember what he was like when I was a moody teenager, or a boneheaded twenty-something making mistakes he surely saw coming and loved me through anyway. Those memories are hard to conjure. Sometimes they sneak up on me, or come through in fragments, pieces missing, the track skips and it’s incomplete. I struggle to put them together and I wonder how much of the result is real and how much is imagined, because I just desperately need that kind of memory of him to hold on to.
What I remember well is his illness, all his appointments, the gallon zip-lock bag full of pill bottles he carried with him on overnight stays. He was sweet, but resigned. I spent so much time focusing on trying to keep him alive; telling him to drink more water, to get up and walk through the ever increasing neuropathy in his feet, pushing him to eat better and embrace life in new ways. But he ate Hershey’s bars and watched CSI endlessly, and stuck to familiarity even in his last adventures: Colorado, Las Vegas (though it had been years since his last visit there to wed my mother). I wish I could’ve accepted what he knew: that his comfort was all that mattered, and so that’s how he lived out his days. My greatest frustration with his cancer diagnosis (in retrospect maybe I used this as a distraction from accepting it as terminal, fatal, and final) was that not only could I not control the disease, I could not control his response to it. Fight, dammit! I still need my dad! And I have a kid! I can’t lose you and take care of her! What the fuck am I supposed to do if you die?!?
Grief has been a beast in itself. Sometimes I try to separate it from what actually happened, from the cause of it. Because grief is happening to me now. My mom gave me some stuff to read from workshops she’s gone to about losing a loved one. I know there’s a difference between grief and mourning, but I can’t remember what it is. I can’t remember what stage I’m in or what the stupid stages are. Maybe I should go to a workshop. I know I’m supposed to give myself time. I’m supposed to trust the process and give it time. I also know that I feel like I shouldn’t still be writing blog posts about my dad dying a year after the fact. I can’t help myself. It’s self indulgent and I feel like an asshole. Hey everyone, my dad died. How awful is that? Just in case you were having a good day I’m here to remind you that really bad shit happens and you’re not immune to it, so good fucking luck. I don’t know if writing about it really helps me or not. I do know that when I read about other people’s experience with grief, or talk to them about it, that does seem to help. So maybe I can do that for someone else. And maybe in documenting all of this I’ll be better the next time it happens, because it surely will. Maybe I’ll be more steady, more compassionate instead of logical, I’ll listen more and talk less. And for the love of God I’ll fucking leave the house as soon as someone says, “It’s not a good day.”
This is not all to say that I am not happy, or not capable of real happiness, or that I am not grateful for my life and family and all that I do have. I cherish all those things. And I deeply cherish all the years I got to love my dad and be loved by him. This is simply to say that I am still sad. And I will be always be sad for this loss.
“The beauty of the world, which is so soon to perish, has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder.” -Virgina Woolf