My dad died 13 days ago.
That number seems morbidly appropriate right now for some reason.
I thought I was ready. Boy was I wrong. You can never be ready. Nothing prepares you for the pain of knowing that you will never see the person you love again. Not even numerous losses prior to the current one.
You see I am no stranger to loss. I have lost babies – miscarriages, still births and a devastating tragic loss of a son gone too soon. In the span of one year, I staggered through the loss of my son’s dad and two of my closest friends and colleagues. You could almost say I have mastered the art of grieving if there is such a thing. Almost but not quite.
The first time I realized all wasn’t well with my dad was a year ago. He missed work for the first time in five decades. I remember the phone call from my mum with startling clarity. I remember rushing there, wondering what I would find. I remember my relief when she said he was in bed. I remember the way my stomach churned, refusing to accept the possibility that something was seriously wrong.
Even when he woke up in suspiciously high spirits and regaled us with tales of his dreams, I still refused to consider the possibility of his mortality. Even when he kept saying that we were all headed there and he was ready for it.
Two days later, when he collapsed while working, I started to contemplate that he could actually die. He had planted a seed in my subconscious and at a deep level, I began to make my peace with it. I even began to prepare for it.
So when my mum called again about three months ago, I felt like I had just been waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Exactly a month ago, when he was rushed to hospital in the middle of the night and he finally agreed to admission, it hit me that he had known all along. I don’t know how long he knew, but I figure it must have been a long while.
I suppose if you know your body well enough, you will know when something isn’t right. Unlike us though, he chose to do things his own way just as he had always lived his life.
He chose to go out on his own terms. Without pain. Physical. Emotional. He couldn’t bear it.
He kept saying he felt no pain the entire time he lay in that hospital bed with tubes running all over him. Even then, he kept trying to prepare us for what he already knew to be inevitable. But we weren’t ready to let him go. We wanted to hold on to him, keep him with us longer, have one more day. One more conspiracy story from him. One more heated discussion around the country’s politics.
And because he wanted to protect us, he kept up the act for us. Kept saying how strong he was. In hindsight, he was getting worse but we turned a blind eye to that – hanging on to hope that a miracle would happen.
On my part, subconsciously I was at peace. I had accepted whatever outcome was coming. But my conscious was still in denial. I avoided seeing him in hospital because I bargained that if I didn’t, then what I knew to be true wouldn’t come to pass.
And each time I saw him, his eyes bore into mine – affirming what we both knew. Silently imploring me to quit bargaining and embrace acceptance. Silently coaxing me to help the others onto my knowledge caravan. But I refused. After all, how could I do that to them in the face of all their hope? And how could I let go of my own dwindling hope?
Three weeks into his hospital stay, he took the choice out of all our hands. As if the choice was ever ours to make.
I kept hoping against hope that I was wrong. That phone call – when it came – was a confirmation of every single thing that I was running away from. That day will forever be frozen in my mind. Seeing him, still warm, with his beautiful smile that even death could not rob from him. The smile that so enchanted us while he was alive, now offered us immeasurable peace in his death.
I’m frozen at that spot. I find that I cannot move beyond that point no matter how hard I try. I can’t fathom how people have moved on with their lives like he never lived, like he didn’t leave us. Like we shall never see him again. For the life of me, I cannot remember what I even used to do before he died.
I am frozen here. At that spot in the hospital where he lay smiling peacefully.
People keep asking me how I’m doing. Others offer platitudes that I find empty and hollow. I can see those close to me peering intently, wondering if I will sink into the dark place. It’s all surreal to be honest. Because I’m not really here. I did what needed to be done, stepped up and took charge like he would want me to. I was an efficient robot – took care of every little detail.
But all along I never left that spot. Where he breathed his last. Where he felt his final thought. His final earthly feeling. The place where he left me. Left us.
So I’m just going to stand there till I find the strength to take the next step. Whatever that will be.
For now I will just stand frozen in time here and cry till I can move again.