Hey you. This is your future self here--actually yourself one month from now. You just got off the phone with Daddy. You just found out he has cancer, that he has six months to live, but Elle, he is going to pass away within one week. That phone call will be your last conversation with him. In fact, he is going to pass away two hours from when you arrive.
I'm writing this letter to give you a guide on what happens when your dad dies, because I wish I had one.
First, when you walk in to see him, with coffee and a stack of magazines in your bag ready to take care of him, you'll be scared. He will look sort of like Daddy--you'll see the familiar tattoos, including the one bearing your name, but he won't be the man you've known for 38 years. You'll tell him you're here, you'll squeeze his hand, waiting for him to wake up and say, "Hey baby, it will be okay," like how it happens in the movies. But he won't. You'll sit by him, listening to him breathe, but you'll be scared to touch him.
Suddenly, he will die. It won't be one last breath like in the movies either, but will happen for several minutes. It will be weird because you've never seen anyone die, because this man looks like a stranger--not like Daddy, and because you can't believe it. You just got here two hours ago--it will feel like you've been there just a few minutes. You found out he had cancer a week ago. He said it was no big thing. Hey baby, it will be okay, he said on the phone last week.
If there's one thing I wish I could re-do, it's that wish I would have left the room. The image of him dying will haunt you sometimes, like when you can't sleep at night, while you're sitting in traffic, when you're alone. I won't describe it here.
But you won't leave, and that's okay. You will not be scared of him anymore and will squeeze his hand, memorizing every part of his face, his tattoos. And secretly jealous because he still had jet black hair, with no grey...something you definitely did not inherit.
Since he wasn't married, and you are the oldest, decisions will be made and papers will be signed--things you didn't expect to have to deal with for another 20 years. You will still be in denial that this is happening. He didn't look like he was sick the last time you saw him. Parents die when they're old, grey, and he was neither at 59. He was the most intelligent, energetic, full of life person you knew. Everyone loved him. He could make anything sound fun, like the most awesome adventure was about to happen.
You'll feel weird, numb, in a daze, and alone sometimes, but you will remember you have two siblings who are going through this too. Hey baby, it will be okay.
You will have trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep. This will get better, but one month in, I can tell you it's still a struggle sometimes. Every Saturday you will look up and realize it's 3pm, the day and time when he died. I can tell you a month later I am still waiting on Saturdays to be just Saturdays, not his death day. It hasn't happened yet.
Seeing dads with kids will make you cry. You will want to shake them, tell them not to take it for granted, to really remember the moments. You want everyone you know who has a strained relationship with their dad to fix it.
Since you weren't prepared for this, you will have to buy clothes for his visitation. You are definitely not the first person to lose a dad, but you'll feel like it--like you're wearing a sign advertising this new identity. I suggest packing some clothes, because going out in public in a small town is cause for anxiety. You will be recognized and greeted with "sad smiles," where someone is smiling at you, saying they are sorry for your loss, but there will be sadness in their eyes. It's suffocating. You'll grab the first skirt you see (an unfortunate ensemble) and get out of there. Hey baby, it will be okay.
At his service, people will say weird things like--
"You look so pretty."--This freaks you out because this isn't something you are told in person and not by these people.
"Why aintcha married honey?"--Forget my multiple degrees and the fact I've traveled all over the world, have been published, etc.
"Well, you never had kids...there might be a little time left."--Ha!
"Why in the world would you leave here and move to that Atlanta?"--Um...
You have never once been around your uncles, your cousin, or brother without Daddy being there. It will freak you out when they enter a room or talk, because you'll swear you see him or hear him, convinced his absence means that he's just outside having a smoke. You will look for him in crowds. A month later his number will still be in your phone. You will think you have this grief thing down and then it will hit you like it's all brand new. Your brother's mom said that God only gives us grief in pieces, because our heart couldn't handle it all at once. She is so right.
You will have a million questions that will never get answered. A million things you wanted to say, stories you wanted to hear again, especially just to hear his laughter, his voice. Memories you wanted to make.
You are well-known for not being a crier in public. You're the one that holds it all together, making everyone else feel calm and letting them cry on your shoulder. Anger, sadness, confusion, defeat will be part of your daily, sometimes, hourly emotions. Let it out. Let it all out. Cry whenever you want to. As Ashley said: this isn't a time to be strong. NO ONE decides how you grieve or how long you grieve but you. Hey baby, it will be okay.
You'll be surprised at your impatience and aggravation with people, since you're usually easygoing like Daddy was. People will want you to get over it and be "you" again. People will complain about their lives--stupid, silly things that "ruined" their day, like their coffee order being wrong. My Dad died, you have nothing to complain about, you will want to yell at them. Take a deep breath. This feeling will pass. Hey baby, it will be okay.
People you never would have counted on will surprise you in many ways.
Friends you thought that would be there for you, won't be.
They'll say things like:
"At least he didn't suffer."
"At least you got to tell him goodbye."
"At least he wasn't murdered."
"I didn't think you would take it this hard."
None of these things are helpful. But your cousin Matt will tell you regardless of whether it was quick or was a slow ordeal, death is death. It feels the same no matter how it happens. And in that moment, you know you will get through this.
Everyone will tell you how Daddy has "spoken" to them or given them a sign he's in Heaven. You'll feel left out because it hasn't happened to you. Trust me, you will get your sign. I won't tell you, but you will know and will have many of them. Hey baby, it will be okay.
You will remember there is something, just a little something, in every day that is good. There is. Because one day very soon you'll laugh again. The biggest, most hearty laugh! You'll have an impromptu dance party in your kitchen (it will be to a Prince song, btw). You'll realize what is happening and you'll smile. You'll be able to look at his pictures and not cry--okay, I admit that still happens sometimes, but for the most part you won't cry. You'll feel more like the old you.
And when you miss Daddy the most, look at your eyes. You got so many of the best parts of him, you know. Look at those blue-green eyes that look just like his and he'll be there--all the good memories and the laughter and the smiles. It will all be there. And he will tell you, "Hey baby. It will be okay."
|My Daddy collected treasures, like Native American arrowheads. |
I'm convinced the quote above is one of the reasons why.