10:44 PM CST today marked the one month anniversary of my father’s death. He collapsed the morning of May 22, 2016, had a stroke that night and never came home, dying on July 4th 2016. My sister stayed with him the entire time. I don’t know what was in her that made her do it, but I know it was a job for her and her alone, and I am thankful she undertook it. I could not have.
So what can I tell you a month into the worst summer of my life? It sucks. It sucks so hard that some days I literally have to will myself to get out of bed, not because I want to, but because not doing so would cause alarm and more problems than it is worth. There are people depending on me to be a rock, to get over it, to be me again. I am aware that I am a different person. But I am doing my best to let others experience the change gradually. I cannot rip my mask off a la any Scooby-Doo villan, I must incrementally introduce the newest version of myself to the world.
The problem with this is, I do not know what the version is. Since May 22, part of me feels as if I have existed in a cloudy bubble. Keeping the thinnest layer between me and the world. But in that bubble I cannot see a damn thing for all the cloudiness. Some moments I feel like I am empowered and should live life boldly (well at least more boldly than I had been), but the next I think about the reason why I would want to do that and descend into uncontrollable sobs. Body-wracking, aching pain envelops me, and I let it. I succumb to the call of grief. Grief is that friend that peer pressures you to smoke a cigarette behind the bleachers during fourth period (Grief is from 1963), and you do it because Grief is always around. Always watching and whatever Grief wants, Grief gets.
One month later and none of the fears I had when my father was fighting for his life have assuaged. I am worried that he died without knowing that I forgave him for anything he thought he did wrong, that I loved him more than I let on (which, to be a little fair to me, I do with everyone), that anything he wanted forgiveness for I actually gave it to him a long time ago. I mean I said these things to him one day when we decided to proceed with palliative care. I whispered them in his room, while he was 3 feet away from me. I didn’t hold his hand as much as I probably should have. I can vividly remember taking his hand and he had a surge of pain for something else and I thought it was me, and I left him alone. I know he knew what I was doing, because I could not take all the emotion in the moment.
I am living with the fact that I don’t think I did right by him as his eldest child. When people say that shit about if they had one more moment with their loved one they would let them know they loved them and missed them, I get it. I don’t think I would do something that self-indulgent though. I am naturally recalcitrant with my feelings. I may just hug him.
I never really hugged my dad. I hate being touched. I am afraid of affection. About two weeks after he died, I saw hanging in my parents bathroom a cute little scroll with teddy bears that was just a poem about the power of hugs. I stood in that bathroom for 15 minutes suppressing screams of agony. All I could think about was how I actively and purposefully withheld affection from him for a long time. And even if he forgave me for it before he left, I can’t forgive myself. I do not want to say that the reasons for me doing these things at the time were wrong, that invalidates my feelings at the time. The only way I can describe it is that my father was not an easy man to live with, and no one called him on his bullshit. Except me. I was going to be the one to punish him. So I did, by being a bitch. I acknowledge that I held a grudge against a man who loved me unconditionally, and how can I forgive myself for that? Even if I knew how, I don’t think I could. I never will know my father as an adult because I squandered all of those opportunities. So yeah, one month later it still sucks; I wish I had more memories hugging my dad.
One month later, I am trying to be strong for those around me. I am trying to keep it together so I don’t unravel, but it is so hard. I randomly burst into tears, or act so blase about it that people don’t know what to make of me. I remember one day after his funeral, I was walking into the office and the breeze felt so nice. Not as hot as usual as Texas summer breezes. As I kept walking, my thoughts turned to ‘I will never enjoy a breeze with my father again.’ These images of him since childhood flooded me; specifically of us in a car. I even put him in what I think was his usual weekend uniform from my teenage years: brown shorts (with an elastic waist) and a baby blue collared t-shirt that had a fun navy blue and boat pattern on both sleeves. I spent 40 minutes crying at my desk that day.
From Trinidad, to Illinois, to Texas, I always sat behind my dad in the car. Always. I remember watching his arm lift ever so slightly so that he can feel the wind resistance. As if he was saying he was a force that could disrupt the natural order of things. When I started driving, I noticed that I did that too. To push against wind resistance is an act of defiance. And that is who my father was, defiant until the end. For the rest of my life, I will have to try and snatch the threads of memories that depression has robbed me of, to recall my father. I didn’t spend that much time with him after school, often leaving the room when he entered it (I am a bitch who held a grudge). When he came with me to Austin to watch me get sworn in as a member of the State Bar, I never spoke to him. I made him sit in the backseat of my car as I drove him and some of my siblings down there.He inconvenienced me at the time with his presence. I didn’t have the courtesy to think how proud he must have been. The reason he emigrated from his beloved Trinidad was so that his children could have better opportunities. And the first of many achievements of his five children was his eldest (and worst) daughter becoming a lawyer. God I hate myself.
One month later, still sucks. It sucks so hard. I miss my father. I miss the relationship I wanted to have with him, that I never will because of my own stupidity. Don’t live with regrets dear friends, try and do the right thing in every situation. You don’t want to look back on life and be beholden to these terrible feelings that will prevent you from healing. I love you dad, and until the dementia comes for me that claimed your parents, I will do so with as much vigor as I should have when you were alive.