“For in grief nothing “stays put.” One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?
But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?
How often — will it be for always? — how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, “I never realized my loss till this moment”? The same leg is cut off time after time.” – C.S. Lewis
Nine years ago, on March 22, I lost my father. The three weeks leading up to his death were filled with the uncertainty of the certain: labored breath, decreased oxygen levels, shingles, multiple visits by the palliative care doctor, abrupt, intense interruptions in the middle of the night with early morning wake-up calls. His moments became a closed maze of time, day and night indistinguishable from one another since he didn’t have the energy to sit up to drink tea or read the paper or walk to the restroom.
He slept on a hospital bed in my old room. In a brief flash I saw a movie reel of my childhood – a desk where my father often coached me on an algebra problem and the small corner where he told me to keep moving forward after a few friends left me out of plans. We had some knock-out fighting matches in this room too, moments where we sat on opposite ends of the cultural spectrum, my American upbringing and his East Indian roots. The clashes were epic. But I loved this quality about my father. He owned what he said even if no one else agreed with him.
The shift from childhood to adulthood seemed sudden, but of course, it wasn’t. The cliché is true. We don’t pay attention to what we’ve lost until it is gone and hard truths are born in retrospect. Nine years later when I reflect on my father’s final weeks, I remember how the smell of Glade vanilla air freshener took vigil on a nightstand next to his bed. I constantly fluffed his pillow while asking,”Dad, are you ok?”, and when he answered in silence, I rearranged his medications on a dresser. I flitted about the room like a hummingbird, to discover a place to land. I didn’t sit with him because this meant acknowledging the inevitable. Instead, I busied myself, convincing myself that taking care of his practical needs could somehow prevent his fall from the high wire. This, I know now, is denial. I didn’t have the words to console or comfort him in those last days. But how could I? I wasn’t ready to let him go. Even now, it is difficult to comprehend his absence.
I’ve turned my grief inward. I talk less about my dad to others and over the past few years I haven’t written about my grief in this space. There is an irreparable, irrevocable brokenness that arrives when you lose someone you love. This loss becomes a part of you and flows through your marrow.
I haven’t talked to my father in 3,285 days. And now I remember how I didn’t sit with him in those last weeks. So my wish for all that visit this space is to sit with the people you love. That not only know you, but get you. Really sit with them. Listen to what they have to say. Ask questions you want answered. Have difficult conversations, laugh at silly jokes, make fun of one another and tell the people you love of their significance in your life. Do these things as life is happening, not while it is ending.
I miss talking to my father every single day. As C.S. Lewis asks, “How often — will it be for always?”