Two important dates came and went in my life recently and they passed me by without a thought. What this tells me is that I am finally letting go of someone that I held onto for nearly fifteen years. August 31 was the 15th anniversary of my father’s death, and September 15 would have been his 68th birthday. Both of these dates passed me by and at first, I felt guilty for not remembering their significance and for not visiting my father’s grave as I do every year on those dates, but I suddenly realized that the impact that both of those dates have had on my life isn’t what it used to be.
I am not saying that I don’t miss my father but I think I have finally stopped grieving. I also think I have evolved, grown and changed in so many ways in the last fifteen years that his memory no longer hurts. Instead, it makes me proud. The person that I am today – content, confident and strong – is the person that he always wanted me to be. Granted, it took me nearly 35 years to get to that point in my life but this year as my 35th birthday nears (in 3 months), I no longer want to look at past, I want to look at the present and towards the future. I remember a time when I feared growing older, and now, I welcome it with every part of me. I love the person I have become despite the impact that illness has had on my life. I also love the spirit of the person that I am now and maybe my health had something to do with that and maybe it didn’t.
Fifteen years ago when my father passed away, I was nineteen years old standing by my mother’s side helping her to make the hardest decision that any nineteen year old should have to. After 43 days in a hospital on a ventilator, the time came to say goodbye and that decision was one my mother could not make alone. For 43 days, she stood by his side waiting for him to wake up despite being told the chances were slim, and I watched her lose parts of her soul and spirit as each day went on. I saw a man that for nineteen years of my life hung the moon change into someone I did not recognize, and I knew that his time with us was running out, but my mother refused to believe it. I knew that a man who stood confident everyday of his life until 43 days prior would not want to be in the condition he was in and watch his family mourn while not being able to move on. He was no longer a part of our lives because he was in a vegetative state and he was never going to come out of it.
At 53 years old, he was going to miss out on a whole lot including college graduations, weddings, and grandchildren, and nothing would change that. My father was gone and my mother wanted to believe in miracles. While I wanted her to hold on to hope, I could not stand to see her suffering. We finally said goodbye to my father in the evening hours of August 31 and despite knowing for 43 days that this moment would eventually come, it was the hardest thing that anyone of us had to do. My mother became distant from her children, including my baby brother who was only four at the time, my two other brothers, ages 15 and 16 began rebelling, and my sisters and I tried to focus on our own lives while caring for our four year old brother.
I found myself trying to make sense of a life without my father and I felt like that I was weak without him. I had no one to lean on and my marriage and my health were both failing. I needed my father in my life, I felt like I had buried a part of me with him and the next few years of my life after his death were the most difficult of my life. So much was happening and I need a father to feel safe and protected but I didn’t have that so I learned to fend for myself. I also learned that I was capable and his death and the years following forever changed me. I mourned for many years and I never stopped missing him. In my dreams, he offered me so much hope. He came to me when I needed him most so in a way he never really died in my heart and in my soul. As I became more content, more confident and stronger, I started seeing less and less of him in my dreams. I also started to miss him less and less. Then, one day I realized I didn’t miss him at all because I was too busy doing what I knew would make him proud.
As I write these words today, despite the rain and how gloomy it is outside, I feel the sun shining. I can feel him beaming ear to ear because he is proud and while I wish that I could have become the person today with him in my life, I didn’t have that option. I did learn a lot while he was alive, but I learned more from his death. To come to this point means that I finally stopped grieving and I have started living the life that I know that he would want me to live – healthy or not necessarily healthy. His death, my life after his death, and even my diagnoses have all made me this person, and I don’t know what I would be without all of these life lessons. I certainly would not be as content, as confident and as strong as I am now.