I always knew it would happen before everyone else, but not this soon. My father had been ill for the majority of my life, but he had a strength and positive outlook like no one I’d ever seen. I wasn’t ready for it to happen.
When I got the phone call from my mother telling me that he had passed away, my whole world disappeared. My body went into shock; I barely remember walking out of the Starbucks where I had been naively enjoying a coffee with an old friend, driving home, and arriving at the hospital to say goodbye.
Not me. Not now. Not him. He was fine five hours ago. No.
I was used to seeing my dad in hospital beds. For the last two years of his life, he lived in a nursing home. It was an unspoken fact among my family that his death would be premature, yet nobody expected it to come when it did. I was living life as a normal college student, and college students have fathers. Their fathers come to graduation, to family weekend, to the father-daughter dance at the end of senior year. I would always have a father. This was an indisputable fact in my mind, until it wasn’t.
My thoughts drifted to the future of myself and of my family. I was leaving for a semester abroad in a week and a half. How was I going to be mentally prepared to go to Europe after something like this? How could I leave my family so soon after something like this? How heartless am I to even consider leaving my mother and my sister alone in the wake of this grief? I thought even further into my future. How will I get married without my dad by my side? How will I explain to my future children that they don’t have a grandpa? All of the how’s and why’s in the world crossed through my mind, all without a reasonable answer in sight.
For the next few days, I felt a weight on my stomach that made it unbearable to eat, to breathe, to think. Three words would cross through my brain: he passed away, and it would hit just as hard as it did the first time. Remembering over again that someone you love has died is an indescribable experience; it’s the realization that yes, this is real and no, you won’t wake up. It’s the weight on my stomach reemerging and stabbing harder than it did the last time. It’s losing my breath and my vision blurring for a second before coming back to reality. It’s hearing my dad’s laugh and seeing his smile, and realizing they’re just in my head, because he’s gone. It’s all gone.
Facebook messages and texts of support poured in, all offering the same comfort, yet nothing could ease what I was feeling. None of these people knew how I feel, and I hope they don’t have to know for many, many years. I pray that none of my friends have to open and return their father’s Christmas gifts because he didn’t get the chance to do it himself. I hope they never have to smell their father’s aftershave one last time before discarding it with the rest of his old belongings. His glasses, his watch, his one fake tooth he used to pop out at me and my sister to make us laugh. It’s all gone.
Fast forward, to when I’ve lived in Europe for three months at the urging of my family and with the final realization that my father would want me to be here. Those three words still cross my mind every day: he passed away, and with each day, the blow lessens. Life goes on, and I continue to grow even without my father by my side. I see him in the mountains, in the clouds, and in the generosity of others. He may be gone, but he’s here.