Here I am, online in the middle of the night again. I never imagined that I would spend my evenings searching for how to cope with the loss of my father. To be honest, I never imagined that I would lose my father – at least, I never seriously thought about the inevitability that he would die.
There were times when I would lay in bed at night and think about death – I would consider the inescapable truth that I will eventually die, and I would engage in thought experiments that centered around living in a world without my father or my mother. The feeling that gave me was beyond sorrow, beyond grief (at least, that’s what I thought at the time). But then I would roll over, wipe my eyes, and comfort myself in the knowledge that I, along with my parents, had a long, long time left on this earth. I would close my eyes, surrounded by familiar sights and sounds, and smile. I found solace in the belief that when the time finally came, I would be mature enough, and strong enough, to cope with the loss.
Ultimately, these considerations, these thought experiments, would last for no more than a few minutes. They were simply too horrifying to see through to completion.
On Monday, October 10, 2011, I realized that my worst fears were legitimate concerns. I realized that my father was not destined to remain on this earth until I was emotionally mature enough to accept the loss. And really, when are we ever really ready to face the loss of a parent? Even writing this now, I’m approaching it from a distanced perspective – in a way, it’s almost like I’m going through with another thought experiment, but this time, I’m following its course to completion.
My dad was more than a father to me. He was my best friend. Honestly, I’m inclined to think that he’s still my best friend. I am one of those fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on your perspective) enough to claim the title of “only child.” I consider myself fortunate, because I never had to share my father with another sibling. That’s not to say that I didn’t have to share him at all – my parents divorced when I was young, but each later remarried to individuals whom I now consider parents as well. Nonetheless, I had such a special relationship with my dad. He was able to play the roles of father and friend, disciplinarian and mentor.
If I had siblings, I think I may have been considered the black sheep of the family. My parents were both career Naval officers – I enlisted in the Army. My parents, and my dad especially, seemed to have always had their act together. And so, after falling into alcoholism and a deep depression following my first tour of Iraq, I fell from their grace. I was never cast out completely, but during those dark times, I could see the disappointment in their eyes as I got myself into trouble.
In December of 2009, something extraordinary happened. I won’t relate the full story, but will instead say that, through a most unfortunate and bizarre series of events, I felt as though something beyond the scope of human comprehension was trying to get my attention. And, whatever that force was, it succeeded in its mission. I changed my life. In a matter of days, I set aside my dependence on alcohol, sought treatment for my dependence and PTSD, and got my life on track.
Because of that, I have since lived a life of no regrets. My dad, who was as much an artisan as he was my father, friend, and mentor, would spend hours just talking with me. I write these words now from a house that he built for me with his own hands, a gift for me for the completion of my initial service contract and the start of my life as a university student.
Fallen from grace but since returned, recent times with my father have been better than ever. At 27 years of age, with a soul scarred by violence and brutality in service to this nation, I have felt like a child again. And that is because my father, the patient, kind, and loving mentor and friend that I remembered from my childhood, was there for me. And I would awe him with my accomplishments in the classroom, or my insights during our conversations relating to his post-retirement work as a government consultant. And it felt good. My dad was proud of me again.
A few weeks ago, my truck was in need of some serious service. While it was in the shop over Columbus Day weekend, I used his car. And it was because of that fact that my dad died in the place that he loved above all else – his home, his “Monticello,” as he called it.
I remember that morning – Columbus Day, 2011. I drove off to class, in my dad’s car. That afternoon, I was supposed to pick him up so that we could go and grab my truck from the shop. It was a cold day, and overcast. I drove home after a relatively short day of classes, expecting to find him in his office – hunched over in his chair, with books splayed out across his desk, doing research for his book. He wasn’t there.
I walked up the stairs of the deck that he and I built together in the summer of 2010. And, through the glass door leading into the sun room, I saw what appeared to be a pile of clothes. Each step that I took brought his form further into focus. And each step in turn came quicker than the last. In the space of a breath I burst into the house. It was not a pile of clothes, but my father on the floor.
Even as I had charged into the house, I had never really considered that he might be dead. My first impression was simply that Something Terrible Had Happened. Maybe he’d tripped. But in a few seconds, I knew that he was gone. I remember screaming.
That was some months ago now, but it feels like it was yesterday. I’m still in a state of disbelief. I’m writing about this as though I bore witness to the tragedy of some other poor guy who lost his dad. But I also know that this is my reality. My dad is dead. My best friend is gone.
Much happened in those first days and weeks following Dad’s death. I experienced everything from a joyful acceptance that he’s moved to a better place, to a reluctant acceptance that all that lives must end, to a refusal to believe that my worst night-time fears had come to pass.
I miss him so badly that it hurts. Never again will I see him walk through the door to the building. Never again will I wander over to his workshop, and sit and talk with him as he worked on restoring an antique samurai sword. I will never, for the rest of my life, enjoy dinner in the company of my father, or laugh at our inside jokes, or talk about our plans for the future. I will never again, ever, be able to call him or walk to the house and talk with him – no more wisdom, no more deep conversations. Never again will I ever see my dad and be able to hug him and tell him how much I love him, and how much he means to me.
There’s so much more that I can write. In fact, my usual aversion to writing is strangely absent when I’m talking about my dad. I guess that’s the way I know our bond will never be broken, and our love will never fade.
I miss him so much. He may be gone from this earth, but he will always be my Dad, and will always be here in my heart.
Special thanks to guest author and Hello Grief Community member Alexander G. for sharing his story with us.