When I lost my dad last July, my world changed forever. My father had succumbed to a long battle with heart disease and, although I saw his death coming, when it happened, I was consumed with grief. I resonated deeply to something that I had read before—Theodore Roosevelt's diary entry on the day that he had lost both his wife and his mother: a predominant X above a singular line that read, The light has gone out of my life.
Reading my father's eulogy to an overcrowded funeral parlor at seventeen years old was the darkest, most difficult moment of my entire life. It was a bittersweet summer, given that I had just graduated high school—a feat that my father strived to see when he first learned of his critical condition nearly ten years before. When numerous doctors put a time stamp on his life, and suggested that it was highly unlikely he'd see me graduate middle school, let alone high school, he was determined. His faith proved strong when he lived to my graduation date, watching not from the bleachers with the rest of my family but from a hospital bed through a FaceTime call. He died three weeks later.
My friends and family made a point of dragging me out of my bedroom, out of my house, out of my sadness. Graduation parties and concerts and spontaneous beach trips celebrating newfound freedom occupied my time. I was numb with pain, and busying myself in an attempt to avoid my feelings. My dad was my best friend, and he was gone.
I didn't want any of it to be real, so I pretended like it wasn't. I would make up stories in my head to get myself through it, to fall asleep at night.
My dad was in Paris, walking on cobblestones, eating macaroons and smiling at fellow tourists, or in London, finding cover from the rain in a used book store. He was patting his pockets for change, making jokes to the cashier, taking silly pictures in one of those red telephone booths.
Every day, the scenarios would keep me going. I wasn’t with him, simply, because I was spending the summer seeing my friends off to school. But when I was done, I would join him on his worldly adventures. I’d take a year off before I started college.
He had hit the lottery, and he was relishing in it.
He was in Maui, and he was going to call, but the rates were astronomic; and he was fine. Sunburnt, a little dehydrated, but fine. I wasn't talking to him every day, but he was still here, lost somewhere exotic. Alive.
Or, when these scenarios didn’t suit the day, I tried to erase my dad completely. Every grey hospital room, every stone-faced doctor. They didn’t exist; they never had. I had never known my dad, and was just raised by my mom. I erased mental pictures of running into his arms in a child when he'd come home from work, weekend trips to museums and the movies, and, instead, I had a dad like many people that I knew at school did: an absent, deadbeat, faceless ghost. He wasn’t there and he never was.
I pushed the memories down because it was too painful to admit that they had happened. I tried so hard.
But they would come out of nowhere.
There is a diner that my dad and I always used to go to together, around the corner from my house. Once, a manager told us that they kept the sugar packets behind the counter because the elderly would supposedly pocket all of the packets to take them home and they had to constantly refill them. They kept them in a “vault,” they claimed.
My dad would always joke about this: “I’ll have an unsweetened iced tea with sugar packets—from the vault,” and then he would smile at me. “You don’t have to laugh at his jokes,” I would tell the waitresses, who were sometimes amused, sometimes confused.
When I was out with my mom one day at that very diner, I had ordered an unsweetened iced tea. I hadn’t mentioned sugar; I hadn't thought to. She had placed our drinks down, soundlessly, and came back a second time to place two “Sweet and Low” packets on the table, just as wordlessly; thoughtlessly.
I looked up from my phone to see why she had returned to our table so soon and my eyes narrowed at the two pink packets. Before I could even think about where I was or why, I burst out crying.
Here is what I have learned about grief:It doesn’t hit you when it’s supposed to; when you’re putting on lipstick for the funeral, or when you’re stuttering out "thank you"'s to family friends giving their condolences. It doesn't hit you when you first get the phone call, not really, anyway, and it doesn't hit you when your voice is cracking at the last lines of the eulogy that you wrote yourself.
It hits you in sugar packets and old songs on the radio and beams of sunlight coming through your window on a Tuesday afternoon, prepelling you back to a time when the person you loved so deeply that your heart hurt was alive and took all the back roads home so you could watch the sun set.
It hits you in scents you can't place–of spices and autumn and cologne—and stray socks you find in the dryer and when you're in the checkout line of a grocery store looking at the magazines.
When I finally accepted the reality of my father's death, I found parts of him everywhere:in every road I drove down in my hometown, in people, in Diet Cokes and Ford pickup trucks, in blue eyes.
I faced a new round of emotions, of memories, about a month ago when I walked into Target and saw a section of merchandise specifically for Father's Day. Wallets, ties, and ironic t-shirts dominated an entire display.
I've gotten through his birthday and Christmas, and all of the other holidays that were "firsts" without him. But this holiday, this frivolous, Hallmark, joke of a holiday, is more than just an empty chair at dinner, a heavy absence that looms long after everyone's gone home for the night. This is a holiday that specifically requires having a father; And I don't anymore.
I am heartbroken, and, more than anything else, angry. I'm angry at the world for taking him. I think a small part of me always will be. Recently, this anger has fueled sleepless nights where I find myself e-mailing back every chain store that has sent Father's Day promotion deals, at 3AM, (Dear Best Buy, go f*ck yourself, some people don't have dads, and you should be considerate of that, and I don't even think people shop at Best Buy anymore lol, #suckstosuck) but for the most part, my anger allows me to cope.
It allows me to be at peace with the fact that I live in a world that my dad no longer lives in. It reminds me that parts of my dad will always be alive, in his friends, and in my siblings, and in me. That the world shines a little brighter because he existed.
This Father's Day, in remembering my dad, I will remember how he made the world's best ham and cheese sandwiches and how he was the only person that would listen to Taylor Swift albums non stop with me. I'll remember how when he got sick, he chose to fight until his very last day, and in doing so, he taught me that life is always something to fight for.
And even though I won't make a card this year—with glue and glitter, like I have since I was younger—and I won't buy commodities like framed pictures or Calvin Klein cologne, I will be grateful for the man that as a child, taught me my left from my right, and, as a young adult, taught me right from wrong.
Knowing, being raised by, and being loved by my father will always be something to celebrate and be thankful for, this Father's Day and every day.