I know I talk about death more than a 21-year-old probably should, and the subject of my dad is one on which I could talk for days, but these particular thoughts wouldn’t leave me alone as I tried to sleep before 7am today. So here you go.
Warning: If you’re not up for reading something that deals with death, or uncomfortable with the concept and idea, then be forewarned — death is definitely mentioned extensively in this post. However, it’s not JUST about death, so. Do what you will.
Death is something I never really thought about extensively, despite being racked in my childhood with recurring dreams/nightmares about my grandmother and I floating along in this boat in a misty, blue-green place that seemed like a swamp, while discussing my mother’s death, usually culminating in the spirit of my mother or a ghost version of her sitting in the boat with us in the end. I tended to try and forget those dreams upon waking, and while it never really worked, I still never got that depressed over them.
However, I remember the moment I realized what exactly death was. I was at one of the many funerals my dad’s side of the family frequently had (it seems like we were always attending a Tidmore or Dollar funeral) and staring at the body like you do (which is so weird to me, but that’s a story for another time). I looked at the man’s hands and realized they were empty. No blood flowing through the veins anymore. And it made me cry for a few minutes before moving away and not thinking about it much afterward, except when I would attend another funeral and have to relive that.
When my aunt, my dad’s sister, died, I was sixteen, and she was cremated, so there was no body to have to stare at during a visitation. It was a welcome change from the usual thought process I had to go through during an open-casket service. Instead, the mere absence of said person made us focus on the memories more — at least, it did in my case. I suppose I can’t speak for others, but I know I much preferred a “memorial service” for a person instead of a visitation and burial.
Still, I never really got used to seeing a lifeless person, and had never seen anybody die or walked in to find a lifeless someone, until my dad. Like with most stuff in life, when it rains it pours, and six months and three days later, I witnessed a similar thing with my grandmother; however, it was more forgiving with my grandmother to me. It was an extremely strange experience to walk into the room and see my dad, only not my dad as I remembered him, lying on the bed, unable to respond or move. I was eighteen. He was cremated, thankfully, because I’m not sure I would’ve been okay with seeing him in a funeral setting. And the memorial service we held for him was a good one, I feel. We spoke of him, had multiple people come up and share funny stories (well, if it involved him, it was usually a funny story) and had slideshows on our laptops and picture boards filled with different photos.
But just like that, you never get to hear a person’s voice again, or feel their hand squeeze yours, or hear their heavy footsteps on the hardwood floor, when hours before I’d gotten to hear his voice. It’s true that no matter how expected a death can be, it will always seem too sudden, but with him, it really was. Sure, we knew the end was soon, but definitely not that night, especially after the hospice nurse seemed to think he was all right (well, as all right as someone with Stage IV cancer could be, I suppose). However, he was still in the house — that is, his boots were still on his side of the bed beneath the window in my parents’ room, his wardrobe with the open door and his clothes hanging inside still in the right-hand corner, the ugly lamp/radio thing he had on his night table.
Now, we’ve changed our house so much — for the better, if you ask me — with many renovations having gone on, bright walls instead of dark, wooden panelling, a ramp out front, hanging porch flowers, and much of the furniture that cluttered the different rooms stored away. While good for helping us make the house ‘ours’ — as in, my mom’s and my house — now that it wasn’t ‘ours,’ as in my mom and dad’s, it still sometimes makes the absence of my dad a strange thing.
Some days it feels as though he’s been gone for ten years, when it hasn’t even been three yet (October 6 will be three years). Some days it feels as if I never even knew my father, and that he was just someone I dreamt up, which is probably ridiculous seeing as how I’m proof he existed. But if you’ve lost someone close to you, you probably can relate to what I mean. And sometimes, rarely even, it feels as though I saw him just last week. Watching home movies is an incredibly strange experience, as is hearing the recording I made him record on his cell phone one time. It confirms that I did, indeed, have a father, that he sounded just like I remember, and that he’s now gone. It brings such strange emotions bubbling to the surface, that I just have to either sniffle or cry for a few minutes, and then move on.
While sometimes I feel like asking, “What did I do to deserve losing my father at eighteen?” And while a tough one to stomach, I’ve really dealt so well with my dad’s death because it really changed me in some good ways. Who’s to say I wouldn’t have changed in these ways had he not gotten sick and passed away? Who knows? But I attribute most of it to the horrible situation, because somewhere, somehow, there’s most likely even the tiniest sliver of something positive in a bad situation.
But the inevitability of death that I truly realized when this near-invincible father died really prodded something awake in me. I realized I didn’t want to go my whole life without making important amends, and I emailed (or Facebook messaged, rather) my childhood best friend, someone I’d lost touch with in seventh grade when middle school hormonal-rage went down, apologizing for everything and explaining all that was going on and how it helped me realize that life is too damn short for regrets, and for being passive. I had to be aggressive in dealing with my regrets, and do something about them rather than lament on them. So Hannah and I made amends, I grew more confident in myself, and while I’m still trying to find steady courage within myself, I feel this whole mentality of “what if something happens and I didn’t take this opportunity?” always is in the back of my mind. And instead of continuously lamenting over my father, which will not bring him back nor will it make his absence any easier to deal with, I’ve held onto the memories, but still live enough in the present so that I don’t “forget to live” (as Dumbledore wisely said once).
One day, one step at a time, though. I guess that’s all I can do. And I think Dad and Nana would be proud of who I’ve become and am striving to become. I know I’m pretty happy with who I am.
Now that all that’s out of my system, I’m exhausted. I hope this means I can sleep finally.
PS: Yes, Kevin, I used a Coldplay song title as my title. You wanna fight about it?