A few weeks ago my dad passed away at 87 years old. I’ve been truly scared for years that this moment would come. I deeply feared what losing my parents would do to me. Would I unravel? How can people possibly go through something like this? I’m not afraid of my own death, just that of the people I love.
Now that my dad is gone, I have this sense of introspection, that this is what it’s like to not have a father. I’ve been very consciously trying to navigate through this grief in a healthy manner, to let the pain do what it does, and also to learn from it as much has I can.
I find that the wave analogy still makes sense, intermixed as it is with sadness, insights, and sometimes odd realizations. One of them has been that grief is geographically located: trying to make sense of this loss is not the same in a hotel room as it is at home. Another is that my dad won’t be there to witness who I become next. I’m not a kid anymore, but I somehow never realized that knowing my dad was there to see me grow as an adult was still an important part of me.
You just never know what feeling is around the next corner.
At the celebration of life that we did, I spoke and tried to put in a bottle many of the recurring thoughts everyone kept bringing up about him. This is what follows, expanded on with the help of not having tears streaming down my face.
My dad was an eternal optimist. I always knew it, and sometimes worried that he wasn’t facing hardship the way he needed. But in the last few years of his life I really appreciated seeing him take everything with a positive attitude. It really made supporting him that much easier.
He was always inclined to see the bright side of things, and maybe that’s why he always seemed so lucky. I always envied him for it.
Me, I was only lucky when I was with him. Like that time when we went to a Blue Jays game in Toronto, the last time he was able to visit a few years ago. I caught a tee shirt during intermission and knew as it landed in my hands that I would turn around and give it to him. He put it on immediately and he had this wide smile on his face. He was so happy.
He always had luck on his side, even when things went wrong.
In December 2019 he had a big stroke that did some damage. He unfortunately lost his driver’s license and the apartment where he had lived for 24 years. However the silver lining is that this forced move to an old folks home came just as the COVID pandemic started, and I didn’t have to worry about him because he was vaccinated, well fed, and taken care of by the staff at his new residence.
I was impressed to see how well he adapted to this new life. He had lost the routines that had defined him seemingly forever, like having breakfast at the restaurant every morning, or sitting outside on his balcony to read and take notes. But still he called the new place his “little paradise” and he created new routines for himself that he held on to for the rest of his life.
More than anything he was my biggest fan, and I know that’s also true for my sister and brother. No matter what I did, I knew that when I called he would put me on that pedestal. Sometimes that felt over the top, but now? Now I think that’s the way he loved us, and I have to find a way to continue without him cheering me on.
He always supported us in our projects with enthusiasm. It’s in good part thanks to his encouragements that I went to live in the U.S. a long time ago. I almost chickened out of it because that was such a big change for me. But he told me to go for it, and a few years later I came back married, father for the second time, with a new professional career. I owe everything I have today to that decision.
Wherever we lived, throughout the years my dad kept visiting us. He loved traveling and he came down several times when I was in the U.S. That includes the time he came to help me move and pack the moving van, at 63 years old. Then later he came to see us in Alberta and more recently he came several times to Toronto.
I will miss him.
I will miss hearing his excited voice when I would call on the phone, as though I was the most important person in the world. That’s because to him, I was. I could call in the middle of the Super Bowl and he would say hold on, let me turn off the TV.
I will miss when he would inevitably pull out “his list” because he had questions or he simply had things to talk to me about. He had always made it his habit to write these things down, and so inevitably, when talking with him the list would make its appearance eventually. It made me laugh every time.
I will miss the trust that he had in me. When we gave our opinion, it was important to him. He was happy to let me take responsibilities. I sometimes felt it as pressure. Could I possibly always make sense and do the right thing? Now I realize that it didn’t matter. He loved us and trust was implied.
You just can’t buy these things.
In the end, I will never forget when he told me he was ready. He knew it was time before I did. When I came to that realization as we talked, my eyes immediately filled up with tears. At that moment, I saw the focus in his face change. He instantly went from inwardly handling his discomfort to outwardly taking care of me. His blue eyes looking at me with so much love and clarity. He was at peace with it. He gestured for me to hug him and he patted my back as I cried.
I cannot be more grateful for the clarity that he gave me in that instant. That was a true gift. One that I will never forget. Going through such a loss is better when you’re not afflicted with doubt. Taking care of the people you love is also letting them know that the end you’re about to meet is what you want.
He had a good life, and it was so much more than I could ever put into words here. But he is still inside us, in our values and the way we see life. It continues. It’s a cliché, but one that is genuine and true for me now.
Thank you, Dad.