It was easily the worst day of my life. The day my dad died. It was Tuesday October 10, 2006. It was a regular day. I went to work as a classroom teacher. My classes went as scheduled and it was during my last class for the day that I got the news that would change my life forever.
My dad had been sick for over two years. His death certificate said liver failure. We still don’t know conclusively what caused it. He was a very healthy man, always watching his diet and exercising regularly. To this day we believe that it was his excellent healthy lifestyle that allowed him to live that long. Daddy lived in Jamaica, West Indies, where diagnostic medicine is nowhere as advanced as it is in the western world. So, he progressively got worse as doctors treated his symptoms without ever figuring out what was wrong with him.
On the morning of the day he died, he had yet another doctor’s appointment. My mom went with him and my brother drove. I remember calling to speak with him before going to a class. We had our regular chat. How was he feeling, if he ate and the how was his grandson. No sense of trepidation. Of course, he was seriously ill, but in retrospect, his decline had happened gradually over time and I didn’t see how bad he had gotten. I had just started my final class for the day, when one of my coworkers and best friends came to the door. I remember her saying she needed to speak with me and insisting that I hand over the class to someone else. She then took me to the staff room and told me, “Daddy died”. Those two words changed my life forever.
Even though he was sick, I needed to confirm his death. I ran from the room to get my phone to call someone who was with him. I called my younger brother. His response was very abrupt and cold. I found out after the fact that he answered the phone while sitting beside my father’s lifeless body. I literally broke down. I was devastated.
One cannot cope with death. I believe you only carry on. The best advice I got was to grieve however I needed to. That included crying even when it was inconvenient. So, I would cry when eating. I would cry when talking. I would cry while showering. I would cry whenever.
Try to prepare for the small things that will deal a deadly blow. The first time you see the death certificate. Planning the funeral program and choosing the burial clothes. Selecting a casket and a burial spot. Getting a call from that says “Daddy” because someone is using their phone. All of these instances drive home the finality off death. It is gruesome and will be painful.
I also learned to lean on others. So, someone else was allowed to bathe Mikhail. The world would not end if I didn’t cook. Doing laundry wasn’t essential, my friends could take care of that.
I also saw my mom in a different light. I was so hallowed out with pain from losing my father of twenty-five years. How did his wife of twenty-eight years feel? How was she dealing with losing the person that she spent her entire adult life with? She was so strong, despite losing thirteen pounds in one week.
After returning to work, an older colleague gave me some words of comfort. She said it will never stop hurting, but with time it would hurt less. Truer words have never been spoke. To this day twelve years after the fact, I miss my dad immensely and still hurt. It however no longer knocks the breath out of me. With time I could remember the jokes, the things he taught me and his intense love for my son.
My best advice is to prepare for all the “firsts”. First Christmas, birthday, Thanksgiving, Mother’s/Father’s Day without them. In your own way either do something special to remember them or distract yourself if you need to. Grieving is a private and individual process. Never allow anyone to dictate how you grieve.
Over a decade later, I love and miss my dad more than words can say. I still grieve. They’re still things about his final moments that I can’t discuss out loud. But I know now that the worst day of my life didn’t kill me. And as such, this daddy’s girl can take on anything.
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