Two months almost to the day after my dad died I met a guy who I really liked. And it wasn’t just that I really liked him. I was also really excited about him – a feeling I had not come close to experiencing in actual, multiple years. He was funny, smart, had a good job that made it obvious that his morals and values were in the right place, he enjoyed going out for sushi as much as I did. We were rocking and rolling.
A month later, he dumped me. And all this sadness that I was completely oblivious to wrapped me up in its arms and wouldn’t let go.
I had, of course, been sad about my dad prior to this dumping. I was sad about the way he died and I was sad that he was dead. Throughout the course of his three-month hospital stay, it’s possible that I cried enough to single-handedly keep the Kleenex brand afloat. I had spent countless days, plenty of sleepless nights, and too much meal skipping feeling beyond heartbroken. Not a single walk to the subway on the way to the hospital and not one torturous bus ride to the Bronx (where my dad was born and would later die) went by without me choking on my own tears at some point.
But there was so much relief after my dad passed – relief that he was no longer suffering, relief that he was no longer living a life with less than zero quality, relief that he was no longer angry about the unfairness of it all. And that relief sort of overshadowed the sadness.
I returned home to LA three weeks after my dad died and promptly, and somewhat maniacally, got back to my normal. Maniacally how, you ask? Everything I took back to LA from my dad’s apartment had to be put away and organized NOW. I needed new hangers for my closet IMMEDIATELY and they all HAD to be the EXACT. SAME. KIND. After not grocery shopping for three months, I OBSESSIVLY went to the market, as if a grocery store was a new concept that I was just discovering. Despite this mania, which, I will note, was highly productive, I thought I was doing pretty okay. But also maybe not because I was constantly checking in with myself to see if I was on the brink of breaking down. But I wasn’t breaking down so that meant I was okay…right? I’m intelligent enough to know that there is no right way to grieve, but still, I wasn’t quite sure if I was doing it correctly and tried to verify with my therapist multiple times.
Less than a week before this boy called to tell me that the romantic connection and excitement that he had been feeling when we first met had somehow vanished into thin air, I met a friend of a friend who also has a dead dad. He made sure to mention that you didn’t know when, where or how the sadness, anger, resentment over your loss was going to hit you and he told me a story about how he once burst into tears in a Trader Joe’s when a crew member was able to dig his favorite chips out of the back of the store when they were nowhere to be found on the shelves. His eruption of emotion was not about the chips, even though I am sure they are unbelievably delicious.
This boy putting the kibosh on our short-lived romance was my Trader Joe’s moment. All the tears that had been who knows where – well, I found them. And they wouldn’t go away. Which, thanks to many hard-earned dollars spent on the aforementioned therapy, I realized had little to do with this boy (not nothing, but little). I was hurting and it was time to try to be okay with that. I needed the let the trauma, the hurt, the pain, the heartbreak, the anger over having to spend three months watching my dad die out. I had to let it the fuck out.
On the day following the phone call that didn’t exactly go my way, I felt a ferocious, frantic, insatiable need to swipe through my dating apps – to find someone else to be a healthy (okay, fine, maybe not so healthy) distraction from the yucky-ness that was now not so deep down inside me – while simultaneously feeling like I never wanted to date again so that I would never have to hurt again.
Instead, I let myself cry in my car on the way to work and in spin class. I went to the beach by myself and let the salty air ruin my good hair day. I moved my dad’s ashes down from a shelf way out of reach and slept with them closer to me. I drank rosé until my mouth went a little numb (not the best move, I know). I wrote this and soaked my computer in so many tears I thought I permanently damaged it!
I finally grieved. I finally gave myself permission to break down.
I felt a void, which I would say is pretty normal post-breakup. But what was missing wasn’t this guy or anyone else from a dating app. It was my dad. My dad was missing.
I was way late getting into Fleabag, which is shameful, I know, and I’m so sorry, Phoebe Waller-Bridge. In season two, there is an episode that flashes back to Fleabag’s mother’s funeral. Following the funeral, Fleabag confesses to her best friend that she doesn’t know what to do with or where to put all the love she had for her mom now that she’s gone.
I pressed paused after this scene and said, “oh shit” out loud to my empty living room. There it was, summed up within two simple, yet crazily powerful lines of dialogue. It felt like Phoebe was with me in my living room (side note, wouldn’t that be the coolest?), shaking my shoulders, saying, (in a very loving, very caring way) “This is why you’re so heartbroken, you fucking wanker.” She nailed it so, so hard. She got it and she helped me get it.
I had a heart exploding with love for my dad my whole 34 years of life and now what? I had been searching, desperately yearning, for a place to put this love, for someone to give it to and this person who I maybe could have loved said no thank you to this potential love and not only did that hurt (because, obviously), but I had all this love and nothing to do with it. What was I supposed to do with all this love???
But here’s what Fleabag taught me: I don’t want to give that love away. I don’t want to put it anywhere else. And, even though it took me a little while to get here, I now know that I don’t have to. The love I have for my dad looks different now, but it’s still here, still with me every single day, and I’m holding onto it for dear life.
Following a breakup, women often say things like, “I’m actually really thankful he ended things,” and we all know they don’t really mean it, but in this specific case, I mean it. No, really, I do.
I’m thankful this breakup helped me feel even though feeling didn’t feel all that good at the time.
I’m thankful it gave me permission to let things be a little messy for a little while.
And I’m thankful it gave Phoebe Waller-Bridge and me an opportunity to bond.