My dad is dying. He was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer, Glioblastoma, on December 12th. It’s now January 17th and we’re waiting for him to pass away at any moment. He’s stopped all treatment. He can’t speak and can hardly breath.
Sometimes, I feel my grip on reality start to fade. Right now, it feels like I’m being pulled backwards, and the only reason the unknown force hasn’t ripped me away is because I’m still touching things like my desk. The cold fake wood, the plastic of the keyboard. I feel like I’m spinning, and if I let go of something, I’ll spin out of existence. Is this grief?
Lately I’ve also had this intense desire to be destructive. I want to eat so much that I throw up. I want to stay up all night until I literally pass out from exhaustion. I want to run until I can’t walk and have to crawl home, knees bleeding.
I worry for my sanity. If my wife ever dies, I’m worried what I would do. She’s the reason I’m still tethered to my sanity. With each passing minute, the thundering tick of the clock reminds me of one eternal truth.
Everyone is born with a guarantee of death. From the moment we are born, it looms over our heads. I watch my son, my beautiful son, splash water in the tub before bedtime. Does he realize that one day I will die? That I will leave an aching gap in his life?
Someday, both my wife and I will be ripped from his life. He will have to face a day without us. Months after the fact, he will lie awake at night with anger pulsating through his veins.
I find myself grateful at least for this silver lining. At least my son is completely oblivious about all this.
I’m an optimist through and through. I wear my rose-colored glasses proudly. Even when people betray my trust, even when I watch people do awful things, my glasses remain firmly in place. Only a few times have I felt the glasses slip.
For one of the first times in my life, the glasses have shattered. I feel myself consumed with anger and pain. It overwhelms me, surrounding my mind, threatening my sanity.
What do you do when someone you love passes into the world of memory?
What does it mean to grieve?
I remember driving home from the hospital the first week. They had told us there was a relatively good chance of recovery. They had shaved his head for a biopsy. He cried a lot. We all cried a lot. The lights from the other cars blinded me.
Bon Iver’s song, 22 (OVER S∞∞N) played. My sister and I sat in silence and cried. For some reason, we both knew. My younger sister slept in the back. The song hypnotically conveyed its message: It might be over soon. Never before has a song been so relevant.
Do people expect me to be okay? Yes, life moves on. The world does not stop spinning when one man dies. It should, but it doesn’t.
A grieving period. That’s what people keep telling me. That I’ll have a grieving period and then be okay. Some people look at me knowingly, pat my poor suffering shoulder, and say “You’ll be okay soon.”
Screw you. I don’t want to be okay. The man who raised me, the one who tickled me after bath time, the one who took me on fifty mile hikes, the one who came to pick me up at one in the morning when my car died, is dead.
He’s gone. I can’t see him anymore. No matter how much I want to. Never again. He won’t leave messages on my phone inviting me to family dinner. No matter how much I want to.
I’ve watched people go through this. I remember in high school, a friend’s dad committed suicide. I watched from afar (more of an acquaintance) and my heart broke. I thought I understood. I thought I felt her pain. I thought I could help.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. I look back and laugh. How naïve was I, thinking I could understand the pain she had endured? I still can’t imagine, but at least I understand the ballpark now.
My father was my friend, my confidant, someone I went to for advice. I carry his name as a junior. Growing up, I resented my name, if only slightly. I wanted to be original, I wanted to be my own man. Now I feel an intense weight on my shoulders to live up to his name.
My dad is slowly passing into the world of memory.
When the people we love die, they become nothing more than a memory.
As his health declines, he becomes more and more a memory to me. His past self asserts himself in my mind, so all I can see is him hiking, or him chasing us as kids. The shell that lays on his bed, barely conscious, is not him. Religious or not, I can see that what remains is not him.
This point is driven home the day he dies. After the last breath and a bit of a shudder, his life ended. What remained is not my father. It can’t be. I don’t pretend to understand the cosmos, God, Allah, whatever you want to call it. All I know is that what remained was no longer my dad. My dad left.
All I have left is his memory. With time, people tell me that even that will fade. One day I may not remember the sound of his voice or what his smile looked like.
The anger surprises me the most. I’m not an angry person. I’ve lost my temper only a handful of times. Now, I can feel the anger simmer beneath the surface. I sit at my desk at work, talking with people and even smiling. All the while, the anger pulses.
I’m not angry at God. I’m not angry at the universe. I’m just angry.
I feel time blasting my memories like sand. The edges of my memories erode. I can feel them fade. The tempting pull of oblivion, of chaos, dances through my mind.
I went to a therapist for the first time in my life. It actually helped. Mostly because she knew not to tell me the normal fare. She didn’t tell me it was going to be okay. She didn’t tell me that I would heal. She told me there would still be days for years afterwards that would be hard.
My dad died a week and a day before my 26th birthday. The whole day, I was in pain. How can I be celebrating so close to the day my world ended? I don’t deserve to be happy.
People have started using the phrase: “It’s what he would have wanted.” Screw that. You don’t know what he would have wanted. Stop using dead people to get what you want. No matter how good the cause. If it’s good, just do it. Don’t use my dead dad as an excuse. He’s so much more than just an excuse, a manipulative point to be used.
Sometimes, the regrets overwhelm me. My dad died with almost no regrets. I have massive amounts of regret that will haunt me until the day I die. I know it.
I should have told him I loved him one more time. I should have gone out to lunch with him that time he asked me weeks before he was diagnosed. I should have recorded conversations with him.
I should have taken more pictures with him and my son. I should have confessed secrets I’ve held for twenty years.
I should not have argued politics with him as much. I should not have blown him off as much as I did. I should have I should have I should have, endlessly circling my battered mind. I’m exhausted in a way that sleep will never fix.
How do you move on after a loved one passes into the realm of memory?