Numb.

That is the only word that can describe how I felt after everything happened. A few days after the funeral, I was just an emotionless 12-year-old who lost her father. There was no way that I would know how to properly cope with everything that happened, but I definitely mastered the “denial” phase of the grieving process almost immediately. The day my dad died, I remember crying out what felt like every last tear that was available in my body. After that, no matter how hard I forced myself to cry, I couldn’t. I couldn’t even begin to organize all the emotions that were fumbling around in my head. I was perpetually in a haze, emotionally tired, and simply in shock. I also was in a constant state of guilt due to the lack of grief I felt.

When we first found out about my father's diagnosis, my mom and dad chose not to do chemotherapy, radiation, or any other harsh medications. Instead, we took the natural route by changing his diet so that it was filled with fresh juices, and free from any and all kinds of sugar. Even though he passed away, I still wouldn’t change how we combatted his sickness; I'm extremely grateful that he did not experience any pain, and on top of that, his eyesight was restored in the last few weeks he was alive.

From the time my father was diagnosed with cancer to the time that he died, I simply didn’t seem to bat a lash about his frequent trips to and from the hospital. I remember one particular instance when I was woken up to the sound of EMTs “carefully” bringing a stretcher through our tiny hallway, en route to my dad. My mom informed me about what was happening (he had trouble breathing) and told me that they would be at the hospital for just a few hours. I pretended to go back to sleep because I didn’t want to be a burden--to be yet another thing my mom had to worry about. I knew that not every family had to rush their dad to the hospital to make sure he was getting enough oxygen, but that became our new norm.

I wholeheartedly believed that my dad would be healed, negating altogether the possibility of death. I believed in his healing because my family told me this would happen, and I followed suit--I was only 12. Against our wishes, he kept getting skinnier and skinnier, the meat on his bones got weaker and weaker, and the cancer was still there; he was deteriorating before our eyes. In the matter of four months, my dad went from being healthy, to diseased, then dead, and I was left to wonder if this sudden and abrupt ending of his life was my doing.

When people say that they believe someone’s death or something bad that happened was their fault, you think that it’s an irrational image that they made up to distract them from their pain. It wasn’t until after he died that I began to think that I was the problem. I thought, “Well, if I was a stronger Christian, I could’ve prayed for him to be healed and he would still be alive today,” or “God’s punishing me because I did (fill in the blank).” After a couple of years, I finally came to the realization that God had a set time for my dad to die, just like God knows when I--and everyone else on the planet--will die too. This doesn’t negate the power of prayer, it just means that God has complete control of everything, especially our future. It took me many years to wrap my head around this notion, even though I knew in my heart that it was true.

In order to stay sane after he died, I kept reminding myself of the good times that my dad and I had together. One that always comes to mind, is when we made cinnamon-sugar toast on Saturday mornings. Instead of continuously picturing my father lying motionless in the casket--which is an image I honestly will never forget--I had, and still have, to force myself to think of these happier moments. While we ate our special breakfast concoction, he would always ask me how school was going and if I was understanding and enjoying the subjects I was learning about, and I would then ask him about his job. No matter how unexciting my life was at that time, my dad always asked me questions about myself. These moments, especially when he was actively listening, showed me that he was genuinely interested in getting to know his daughter, Reagan Fleming.

My dad taught me to have high standards for how I should expect people to treat me, and he taught me how to simply be a better person. He taught me all of these wonderful things, but most of all, he taught me how to be a good example of Christ; God’s love emanated from him. Whenever I feel like I’m starting to forget what my dad sounded like or acted like, I make myself some cinnamon-sugar toast and the memories and images slowly start coming back to me.