10 years ago, I lost my best friend.
Time is confusing. In some ways, I don’t feel all that different. I’m still in good shape, I look more or less the same, but somehow, I’m ten years older than I was when Dad passed. People say that time moves quickly, whips right by you, and while the past ten years have gone by fast, I know that so much has changed. In that time, I’ve lived in different places, gotten my graduate degree, made and lost friends, been in relationships, and above all else, I know that I am not the same person I was that fateful evening, at about 6:30 pm, on November 14th, 2011, as the rain poured down. It provided a good cover for me, while I sat in my car and cried.
There’s no way that I could still be that person, and I wouldn’t want to be. Part of me is surprised that I’ve made it this far, that I’m still here, when at times, it feels like I’ve been fighting for my life. I’d love to tell you that after my father’s passing, that I had a renewed zest for living, that I went out and conquered the world like Alexander the Great, but the reality is decidedly less sexy. When I finally stopped holding my breath, when I let it out, my body went limp. For a while, I stopped trying, content to know I had given everything I had. I didn’t know what was next, and I didn’t much care. In some ways, I felt like my job here was done.
I write about my father a lot. I know that he’s my muse, the person that inspires me more than anyone else alive or dead ever has. I hope that this post purges the pain from my system, well, maybe not all of it, but I also want to make sure that I’m covering every topic that I want to in these blog posts. It’s not that I don’t want to think about my dad, it’s just that, well, it’s been 10 years as I’ve said, and some really positive changes are happening in my life, stuff that I’d like to write about. More than anything, dad would have wanted us to move on, to continue with our own lives, to build with an eye towards the future, not the past. He was too good of a person to just forget, that was never going to happen, but I’d like to think that we can occasionally look back at the past, remember who he was, honor him, without becoming so wrapped up in what happened that we don’t progress. He wanted us to keep living.
My dad was truly great. I am biased, and I realize that, but I’ve also realized that there’s a lesson here as well. The story of my father’s final days, which I hope to publish, it’s a story of incredible strength, but perhaps it’s also a cautionary tale of idolizing a human being. To me, my dad was a god. He was amazing to be sure, but he was still a human being, and human beings don’t last forever. I didn’t need religion when I was younger because my god was in my life every single day. Despite everything we’d been through, dad was the rock, the one person who was always there to help us and care for us. He was something tangible that I could cling to, that I could see and touch, and why would you spend your time looking for something you’ve already found.
For a while, I wasn’t ready to accept what was happening with my dad. Acceptance meant that dad’s future with our family no longer existed. Acceptance meant that there was no going back. When dad was nearing the end, maybe I should have started looking for work, but I couldn’t give a concrete start date, and I also wasn’t sure that I’d be ready to do much of anything once it all came to an end. After dad’s death, people suggested I get a job to take my mind off of things, but instead I struggled. I wasn’t ready to go forward in life until I had some answers.
I needed answers about existence. I had been a devout atheist for years, but something in me needed more, was no longer content with that set of ideas. I needed to know that everything I’d been through, that it hadn’t been random, that it hadn’t been for nothing. This isn’t going to turn into some long post about how I found god, don’t worry. I simply knew that I wasn’t ready to come back to society fully without having answers to the big questions that were taking up space in my brain. All of these things around me, the jobs, apartments, cars, significant others, none of it made any sense anymore. In a very real way, I was disillusioned, and also completely broken. I needed to heal, to come back alive, but I didn’t know how to do that. I didn’t know how to start again.
How do you make peace with the death of the person you loved the most? I still don’t really have answer. With the foundation of my life in ruins, I had to rebuild my life at age 24. It was insanely difficult, I didn’t know where to start, and no one else in my life could relate. I was still trying to figure out who I was at that age, who I wanted to be. I was so young, with nascent coping skills at best. I look back on that person, not with a mix of anger and embarrassment and shame, but with compassion. That version of me really was doing the best that he could, given the circumstances. It really was quite the challenge, the rebuild, as when you’re in your twenties, even without a huge amount of recent trauma and pain, most are still figuring themselves out, and who they want to be. I had no idea where to start, and fear was playing a large role in my life. Times were tough. How do you explain to a friend that your world just crumbled, and that you’re afraid to go into a grocery store?
The foundation of my life was shattered, and with it, went my self confidence. When someone tells me I lack confidence now, I tend to agree, but I wish they could have seen my 10 years ago, and just how far I’ve come. I went to grad school a few years after dad’s passing. I thought it would help give me direction, but it actually made things worse. I suffered from the worst case of imposter’s syndrome I’ve ever experienced. Everyone seemed to be so much smarter than me.
I had lost my confidence, and also my edge. Every bad day that first year of school, I’d spiral. I’d want to pick up all of my possessions (or leave them), pack a rental car, and move somewhere different. I was so convinced I’d made the wrong choice, that I was completely out of my element, and that I was too stupid to succeed. No matter where I went, I felt like the odd man out. Part of me wanted to withdraw completely, but I fought hard to stay put, to ride out the storm, in hopes that things would calm down. I thought about how dad told me not to come home from college too soon.
How I saw the world was so much different. All these people walked around, and I wondered how they did it. How did these people walk around with a smile on their face, when they were all fated to die at some point? All I could focus on was death. It’s been hard to talk about. I just didn’t know how people could be so comfortable with their own mortality, push away those thoughts, and go on with their day-to-day lives. Of course, I now know that some people have deliberately chosen not to engage with the concept of their own mortality, but I am not here to judge. I didn’t get there willingly. I’d probably still be in denial about it if I hadn’t seen the things that I’ve seen. You’ll get there when you are ready. I am a believer in the concept that everything will happen when you are ready. Okay, maybe not everything, but almost everything.
The past 10 years, I’ve struggled to figure out who I wanted to be moving forward. I put my faith and focus in so many things, only to be continuously let down. I was so convinced that if I just found a job, everything else would fall into place, but that’s not how it works. Of course, I’ve now finally found the role, the direction I want to move in, possibly for the rest of my life, but I’m continuing to remind myself that work, while it can be great, can give us a sense of purpose, and we can love it, that it’s important and healthy to have a life outside of it.
Dad led a balanced life. He loved his work, but he also loved his children, the three women he married, and he had hobbies that he enjoyed. It would be so easy to get caught up in this new path of mine, but I know that there are family and friends in my life that mean the world to me, and I would be shattered if they weren’t a part of my world. 10 years ago, I felt cursed. 10 years later, I realize just how lucky, how blessed I truly am. Above all, I know that what I’ve been through, that it gives me a unique perspective, and that people, when they have problems, that they feel comfortable enough to come to me and tell me about them. I’ll never not love those conversations. I could talk all night.
My father taught me so many lessons that I’ll cherish forever, and he often imparted them to me without even trying. There are so many things that I carry with me, but in my eyes, his enduring legacy is that he never stopped putting one foot in front of the other. He lost two wives, and yet, he just kept pressing on. He could have done so many things to cope, but he knew that the lives of his children depended on him, and so he sought solace on his boat, which he made sure to share with his family. He apologized years later for being selfish, for doing what he needed, and I honestly may have laughed. If that’s the worst infraction that he committed, that he selfishly brought us with him when he went to his favorite place in the world, I reckon I can live with that. Even in his worst hours, he dug deep and finally became the emotionally accessible father I needed. I needed to know it was okay to be an emotional wreck, and he let me know that that was indeed okay. I was never going to be the midwestern man who didn’t cry.
Dad never stopped giving to others, even as he lost control of his body. I continue to love him with every fiber of my being, and hope that while the pain goes away, that he never does. I look forward to revisiting these memories, these emotions, and these feelings, maybe just a little less often. Thanks for reading.