As I grew up, my parents slowly transitioned from being “just my parents” to being my best friends. I loved them with all my heart, not because of how they were related to me, but because of who they were as individuals.
I would go out for lunch or dinner with them because I wanted to, I would enjoy endless conversations, and I believed solidly in the advice they gave me. I went to the movies with them, and hung out with them and would have long conversations, because I derived joy from being around them. They were more than just my parents, they were my friends, the very best I had.
My father though, was in a league of his own for me. This man was brilliant in everything he did; in my eyes he truly was my superhero. Everything I see in me, is a reflection of who he is, I am a true chip off the old block. When I am at my best, I am my father’s daughter.
So the day he died, that was the most excruciating, heartbreaking and gut wrenching experience of my life. No matter how prepared I thought I was, no matter how strong I thought I was, or how much faith I thought I had, nothing, could have ever made this day, anything less than the excruciating and life altering experience it was.
Now remember how I said that my dad was more than just my dad and how he was my best friend? Well like all friends, we had a minor spat the night before he died. It wasn’t a fight, it was me being slightly bratty to him; and before we had a chance to talk it out in the morning, and me telling him in the morning how much I loved him as always, he died. I never got to say that sorry, I never got to say that I love you, I never got to say all the things I would have said if I thought, even for a second that this could be his last day with me.
For about three years afterwards since his death, all I could think of, was that last interaction, that last night, and, that guilt,consumed my every thought. The pain of losing my dad, was gut wrenching, but the guilt I felt every second of every day was soul consuming, and I went on a dark spiral of self flagellation, self hatred and feeling unworthy of being alive all together. I hated myself, and I felt cheated, I didn’t get to say all that I wanted to say. Then there were the million questions I asked myself every day: Did he know how much I loved him? Did he know how proud I was to be his daughter? Did he forgive me for that little argument? Did he die upset from me? Day in and day out, I couldn’t stop thinking about this and I couldn’t stop hating myself.
Between the pain of losing him, not saying all these things I wanted to say, and not getting a chance to say my last good bye, my last I love you, and all the million “lasts” I wanted, and the guilt on top of it all, I grieved for so long.
I couldn’t let go of the grieve, every time I would feel happy, or laugh, or for a split second forget the pain, I would feel so guilty. How was I able to have fun, was I forgetting dad? Was I being a bad daughter, how could I step outside my grief.
For years, every moment of happiness was followed by compounded moments of guilt and sadness, and that became my trend for years. For every slight peak of happiness, there was a steep decline of pain and sorrow. It went beyond my waking moments, I would feel the guilt and the shame even in my sleep. Endless nightmares of being crushed between two walls while my dad saves me at the last second, or carrying the weight of my dad on my shoulders and feeling like I was crumbling beneath it, and the nightmares went on and would not stop. They would increase in intensity, and as time went on, my pain and guilt were manifesting even deeper.
One day, the nightmares got too intense, the pain got unbearable, and I desperately needed my daddy. I had so much going on in life, so much I wanted to share, so much guidance that I was craving for. I wanted my daddy and it was as simple as that.
For a while, I kept on moping how he is not around, how I needed him and he was not there and I didn’t know what to do. Then this crazy urge rose within me to just go visit his grave, see him, be in his presence and I realized I haven’t done that, alone, since the day he died. For three years, everytime I visited my dad there were people with me, people listening to what I was saying, people telling me not to cry, people telling me we had to go; I never got to have a one-on-one with my dad in three years. I took a deep breath, arranged for transportation for the ride (he is buried in a different city) and went to sleep with a mixture of apprehension and excitement, for the ride that awaited me tomorrow.
I woke up at 6 that morning, even though the driver wasn’t arriving till 8, I was nervous, I was scared, I was excited, but one thing I realized I wasn’t is sad. I wasn’t sad. I was going to see my daddy, and that was never something to be sad about.
I got into the car, and we started the two hour drive, I was silent, lost in my own thoughts, until the roads started to look familiar once more, and I knew that we were approaching the graveyard. As we parked, I took a deep breath, opened the door, and with shaky legs made it across, to say hi to my father, for the first time in a year, and for the first time on my own in three.
I slowly walked up to his grave and saw his tombstone, and all the sudden I was reduced to a puddle of tears, that streamed down my face, and all I could say was Hi Daddy, I’m here, I’m so sorry it took me so long, but I’m here.
Eventually the tears stopped, and I was standing right there in front of my dad, I felt confused, what next? What am I supposed to do, I’ve been on the road for over two hours, now that I’m here, I realized that everything I thought I wanted to say, was gone. I was drawing a blank. For a split second, I wanted to turn around and run, it all felt too raw, too real and too intense. There I was, reading his name, the date he died, and for the first time in three years, I was face to face, with the one inevitable truth I was running away from, I lost my best friend, my superhero, I lost my daddy, he really was dead.
I sat down in front of his grave, cross-legged and just focusing so hard on breathing. I started at the tombstone for so long, running my fingers over the engravings of his name, and not saying a word. As crazy as it sounds, just being there, breathing, and just slowly running my hands across the tombstone, I didn’t feel so alone without my dad. I felt for the first time since he died, that he was not gone, he might be gone physically, but with the connection we always had, he will never be gone.
All the sudden without realizing it, I just started speaking, the words came out in an uncontrollable stream, all the apologies, the I love yous and all the “lasts” I wish I could have said, I started to say everything that I have been carrying around for three years. I apologized for the night he died, and the more I spoke, the lighter I felt.
I must’ve sat there, cross legged, with the sun in my face, feeling settled, comfortable and safe just speaking to my dad for around 2 hours. I spoke to my dad about everything that has been going on for the past three years, all the happiness and the sorrow, all the ups and downs, my dreams and my disappointments. I spoke to my dad like I always did, from the heart, and without holding him back. At times I would close my eyes, enjoy the occasional breeze and see picture his beautifully reassuring smile, and then I would take a deep breath and keep talking.
I asked him for guidance, and for advice, I spoke to him of everything as if he never left, because I realized without a doubt that he never did. No matter where I go, no matter what I do, I will always, till the day I die, carry my dad in my heart. My thought process is a bi-product of all his teachings, he influences the smallest details of my world. The way I carry myself, the way I act, the way I treat people is all a miniature mirror of my dad, and I pride myself so much on that, because never have a I met someone as ambitious, resilient, creative and smart, as my father.
Eventually I was all talked out and I felt like the weight of the world was lifted off my heart. I felt the tension I held in my body and my mind fade away, I felt better. I said my goodbye to my father, because I realized that eventually I had to let him go. I physically had to let him go, and I said goodbye and felt content knowing that I can lightly carry him in my heart.
No matter where I go, and what I do, I will always have my dad along the way guiding me, and supporting me. I learned that there is never one last I love you, that a parent always loves you, always forgives you, and that no matter where they are, they will in their own way be there for you. I said all that I wanted to say, all my “lasts”, but I promised him that I will always be back to see him. I will always go back and sit by him, and talk, to feel his presence, to warm my heart, and to be around the light within my soul.
It was an overdue goodbye, but it had to be done. I took my time grieving, but I had to let go of the sadness, the anger and the guilt. It was not easy, it took me years to get here, but once I did, I understood that I am human, and loss is a standard part of life.
My dad would never have wanted to see me cry, my pain caused him pain, and my joy was something for as long as I remember, he was very keen to see. I realized that I needed to honor that, he would never be happy knowing that he is a source of agony for me. I understood that letting him go is not forgetting him, and it’s not that I have stopped loving him.
One of the most common mistakes we make when we lose a loved one is that we believe that if we stop grieving then we are betraying them. That belief that not carrying the weight of grief with us, every second of every day, means that we have forgotten them. We confuse letting them go, with forgetting them and not loving them.
What we often don’t realize is that we can’t lose them, even if we try, because they are part of who we are. When we let them go, we learn to let go of the weight of grief, and allow them to simply be carried effortlessly in our hearts.
To everyone out there who has lost someone, may we all find peace in saying our goodbyes, and the courage to let go.