Grieving Is Nonlinear

Nobody can prepare you for a lot of the junk you’ll face as an adult.

The most useful piece of information a teacher ever gave me was about paying off debt. He said that even just five extra dollars a month would cut down the interest, and he was right.

But nobody told me about taxes or the forms I needed to fill out. I had never heard of a 1099-INT until I started working at a bank.

Not a single person told me about how you should definitely stretch every single day when you wake up. Cause if you don’t, you might pull your back muscles, or your knees and calves will act up during the day.

Worst of all, no one told me how lost I would be after my dad died.

I was well past the age of needing him, or so I thought. I was nineteen and just starting to figure out where I wanted to go with my life (which is laughable, because no I wasn’t). He suffered a fatal heart attack, and I was there when it happened.

I remember the night clearly; I had trouble sleeping. His health had been steadily deteriorating – I think maybe a month prior, we were told his kidneys were failing and there was nothing left for us to do. So I expected his death. I thought about life without him every so often.

We had been evicted from our apartment and were living with relatives. The house was crowded and there was never any money. I felt like my life had gone on hold, because I couldn’t just leave my two sisters behind. They were still in high school, and as far as sisters go, we’re pretty close. My mom was too difficult for them to handle on their own.

So all of our frustrations were reaching a boiling point.

Looking back, I regret letting those things bother me. Who cared? Why did it actually matter? We were with family and we were getting back on our feet. Eventually, anyway.

October 28th, 2013. Around 4AM. I was awake on the couch; I always struggled sleeping on that uncomfortable piece of shit. But it was better than outside, so I lived.

Dad came out of the room he shared with my mom, wobbling and feeling around because it was too dark to see. His vision had pretty much bailed on him; by the time he died, it was my understanding that all he could see were blurs.

I pretended to be asleep, because I didn’t want to help him. He wasn’t afraid to ask for help, and I hate myself for ever being annoyed by that. I’ve never opened that box of feelings, because I know there’s a lot to sift through. I’m angry at myself for being selfish. I’m angry that maybe I wanted him to just finally pass away, so we wouldn’t have to worry about taking care of him. He was losing control of his whole body; he’d have accidents at least once a day. His hands shook too much to administer his own insulin shots. He couldn’t eat anything we could eat normally.

I think I was angry that he wasn’t the man I remembered and looked up to my whole life. I was scared of how fragile he became. It felt sudden, even if it wasn’t.

Dad came out of his room, and I pretended to sleep, until he tripped and knocked over my phone. Instinctively, I reached out to grab it. He steadied himself, and whispered, “I’m sorry.”

I try not to look for a deeper meaning in those words, because I feel like that would be… reaching. It’d be silly. Because he only apologized for what? Waking me up? Knocking over my phone?

He couldn’t have been apologizing for what he knew was coming.

The worst part of dying is that nobody can tell you what it feels like in those last hours. They’re dead.

I stayed up talking to a friend after he went back to sleep, and snoozed for another hour before my aunt took my sisters and cousins to school. She was gone for maybe two minutes before I heard a weird, strangled cry from my dad’s room.

I didn’t tell this to anyone for years, but when I heard that noise? I didn’t get up.

I heard a thump, quickly after the cry, but I didn’t move. I checked the time on my phone. 6:45 AM.

I tried to tell myself: “He probably just slipped while getting out of bed. He’s okay. He’s fine.” But I couldn’t not check. So three minutes later, I got up and tried to open the door.

And I’ll never forget the panic that electrified my bones and paralyzed me when I couldn’t.

His head blocked the door, and I was too stunned to do anything. Another couple minutes later, my aunt came home and I felt as though I were in a dream, telling her what was going on. To this day, she’s my hero, because she forced that door open and called 911. I knew what was happening. I knew he died.

But I still went through the motions. I helped my uncle flag down the ambulance. I waited beside my sister (who had stayed home sick that day) as the paramedics worked on him. When they came out and said he was gone, and my uncle punched the floor, I felt my mouth open and words tumbled out.

“There’s something you can do,” I said. I think I’m a terrible actor. I wasn’t fooling myself at all, and probably not anyone else.

It happened. We knew it was coming.

I didn’t feel anything.

Now that I look back, I’m sure I was in shock.

Because even if you’re expecting the death of your parent, when the day comes, you’re a different person.

A piece of me still stands in that hallway, not knowing what to do with my hands. Not knowing if those ten minutes I spent being useless could’ve changed anything. Dad wouldn’t have wanted to live in a vegetative state. He wouldn’t have wanted to suffer longer than he needed to.

But damn it, he was my dad – and he was a great dad, which I know is unfortunately rare.

I spent the morning staring at his shoes. A pair of dusty, black crocs that he wore to every single event. He wore them when he took me to my first concert, and I was horrifically embarrassed when he got sucked into a mosh pit, and somehow one of the crocs landed on stage in front of my favorite band.

I kept thinking of moments that I treasured, and looking for signs from him in everything that came up over the next few days. I wanted it all to mean something.

But it didn’t.

He just died.

And I continued to live.

I remembered writing my thoughts about this years ago, and at the time, I approached it more logically than emotionally. I had already experienced the crucial life moments I saw on TV. The first date. First time driving. First time getting high at a party and subsequently being busted. Prom. Graduation.

But all those events mean shit. Once you graduate, you’re done.

Once you have your license, you never have to experience that awful first time jitter again.

Once you start life, that’s it.

You keep living.

I was nineteen and I lost my dad at the actual most crucial time in my life, because I was still deciding who I wanted to be.

I hadn’t come out yet. I was still years away from that.

Sometimes I wonder if it would’ve mattered to him. Not knowing is the worst part.

It’s been seven years, and I drove to his grave for the first time a couple weeks ago. I always hated going to cemeteries, because I could never decide how much time was appropriate to spend there. Was I doing too much or too little? What do I say? Do I have to say anything?

I didn’t expect much. I certainly didn’t expect to cry as hard as I did.

At the beginning of the year, on the same day my nephew was born, I lost my aunt. I know. I couldn’t make this shit up.

She died, and the last thing I ever said to her was… nothing. She had been drinking heavily the last few years of her life, and after everything my mother had gone through, I had little tolerance. I ignored her. Coldly.

So cold that when she came into the room and the mood changed, my brother-in-law got scared. He’d never seen me so angry.

That woman used to be my favorite. She was the life of the party, and my best friend. She always had a meal for you if you needed it. She loved watching movies. She did everything to take care of her kids.

And then she was gone.

So I went to my father’s grave and I talked. I talked about my nephew and how big he’s gotten since January. I talked about losing my aunt. I talked about… just how much I really missed him. Which I do. All the time. And it occurred to me that maybe I haven’t cried enough, or let myself feel everything I needed to feel.

I sure as hell felt it that day. I sobbed for half an hour with little break.

I’d like to think that part of it was because I stepped in an entire swarm of giant ants and unforgiving spurs (one of which lodged into my foot and broke off). But I know better.

I felt better.

I had one experience with crying about two years ago, though it wasn’t as cathartic as this one had been. I was watching The Wedding Singer (one of Adam Sandler’s VERY FEW good movies), and a part came up that my dad used to laugh endlessly at. He would say the line and giggle to himself, and when the actor said his line, I started laughing.

Then the laughter turned to hysterical sobbing. It lasted for five minutes before I got a hold of myself and tried to brush off my astonishment.

And while I hate crying, and all the overwhelming emotions that come with it, I think I should do it more often.

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