Some people will say I don’t have to explain myself, why I’ve been gone basically all of April, but I don’t feel obligated to. I want to share this all. I’ve been a lucky person. I haven’t seen death since I was about 13-14 when my paternal grandfather passed away. Now, let me tell you, I don’t remember that much. All I remember is that I hated celebrating my birthday for years after because he died a week after and I didn’t think I could be happy celebrating around such a time of sadness. My grandfather was the only one I had left because my maternal grandfather died when I was a baby, which ultimately resulted in our move to Atlanta from San Diego. My paternal grandfather had a stroke earlier on in my life and ended up living for years after that. I don’t remember the pastor and man that my father, aunts, uncles, and grandmother told me about because I was too little, all I remember is the frail man in the bed, peering up at me with an occasional smile when he couldn’t talk to me. That was the last death of a close family member that I had a personal relationship with and that was 7-8 years ago. Until April of 2017.
April 2017 started off like any other month. I was gearing down to the end of the school year, getting ready for my study abroad trip to Rome in May. I was the same person I’ve always been, staying in for weekends on end with no one bothering me so I could get a lot of work done. This was a common thing I do, but it changed the first weekend in April. My maternal grandmother died in her sleep that weekend and all I know is that my brother called me to let me know. I was a mess that night, but I knew I had to keep it together through that week until the funeral. I went to class, had lunch, but I felt a deep sadness that I hadn’t known in a long time. I can remember going and spending weekends with my grandmother in Macon and sleeping on her pull out sofa, driving around her neighborhood at Christmas looking at all of the lights, and her slipping me a couple dollars or an Oatmeal Cream Pie on the way out the door as we went home. I knew her and can remember her from before her dementia set in, when she remembered me without help, but after as well, with the smile she would give me when I walked into the room. She was a special woman and although the last years of her life that I truly knew her were clouded by sickness, I still loved her. Coming to terms with her death wasn’t anything too hard. She had been in and out of the hospital for months with heart arrhythmia and she would tell me and other members of my family how tired she was all the time. I knew she loved us, but it was her time to go. Losing one of the two remaining grandparents I have hit me like a rock, but I knew that with some love and inner reconciliation, I would be fine and live through it. My family was still here and we held each other up in a way that I can’t even put into words. Even still, I forgot the saying that when one person dies, multiple others come with it (“they come in threes”), but trust me…it wasn’t long before I was able to experience that in full value.
The Sunday after we buried my grandmother, I was at school, getting some work done. This was April 16th, or Easter Sunday as some may know it. I had 3 weeks left of school and exams, papers, and presentations were piling up. My day was fine, just busy. It wasn’t until my brother called me again that night and told me to go home that my life changed. He called me and told me that something was wrong with our dad and I should go home. My heart was racing and I was frantically packing a bag, thinking he’d fallen and broken an arm, leg, hip, or he needed a surgery, but I never imagined that he had left us. Right now as I’m writing this, I’m sitting in the room where he died, in our basement, alone, just as he was. I was dead wrong. I can assure you there are tears streaming down my face, but I need to talk about how this has changed everything.
My dad was my rock. Don’t get me wrong, I love my mom, but like some parent-child relationships, my dad took to me, just as my mom took to my brother. He went to London with me the first time I ever went and even though he gave me some criticism, he always encouraged me to do what I thought was best for my life. He was the person I called when I needed a familiar voice to talk out my issues with friends or had a medical question that I knew he could advise me on. He was a friend, a mentor, and a constant in my life, so having him suddenly ripped from my life is something that I was, and will never be ready for. I had seen him the day before and we had our standard argument over whether or not college football athletes deserve a salary/stipend or not, and I had gone on my normal day of working before heading back to school. He was happy and healthy, healthier than 90% of people I know. He was on the treadmill when he died if that’s any indication of how healthy he was, so having something so quick and unstoppable take him from my life hit me like a ton of bricks. I remember being at the hospital and when they told me, just having my legs fall from under me. I didn’t have words and I couldn’t go into the room and see everything that the doctors had done to try and bring him back. I didn’t have feelings or words due to the shock of it all. I remember sitting in the waiting room and just feeling empty. There was nothing anyone could do to bring me back, I was having such an out of body experience, but I remember pulling myself together because I couldn’t be selfish. My brother and mother needed me, now, more than ever before. I eventually went into the room and said my goodbyes, closed his eyes, and took his wedding band for my mom. I was no longer the oldest with no responsibility other than to graduate. I was not the kid who had to be there for her family and act in a way that my dad would want me to act and be there for my family.
Having to say goodbye to my father was the single hardest thing I have ever had to do and I don’t wish it upon my worst enemy. No one should have to lose a parent at the age of 20. There are so many things I wanted to do with my dad. We’d talked about going on an Alaskan cruise this year, going skydiving, running a marathon, and so much more. Even though I say I’ll never get married and have kids, I wanted him to be there on the odd chance that I change my mind and have a family of my own. But at the end of the day, this wasn’t my choice and all of the wanting him to come back was selfish. It was my dad’s time to go and in all honesty, there was nothing any person, not myself, not my family, not the EMTs, could have done to save him and bring him back to us.
For days, I hated myself for leaving and not staying home when I was at home the day before and I made the conscious decision to leave. There is still time today when I get those same feelings and everything comes in waves. Having barely a week to recover from one death only to have to go and plan the funeral of someone so close to me wrecked me. There were many days where food didn’t go into my mouth, only some water. I wasn’t tired or hungry, but I constantly felt like curling up in a ball and hiding away from the world. Everything that comes with a major trauma like this still lingers today. When the door chime at my house goes off, I get hopeful that this was all a horrible dream and he’s coming through the door after a long night of call, but it will never happen. Every time my mother and brother call my phone, I pick it up in a panic, even if it is to just to ask me how my exam went or to check in on me. I’m not the same person I was a month ago.
A lot changes in a month and no one could have expected that all of this would happen. While my personality may read the same through a camera, I’ve got this major hole in my chest that will be there. It is true that it gets better every day, but at the same time, there are things that will never fade. The changes that I will have to make to adapt to this are innumerable, but I may get there one day. While he won’t be physically present to walk me down the aisle, hug me after graduation, help me pack to move into my first house, or hold his grandchild’s hand when they play outside, he’ll be there with each member of my family that I don’t have in my physical life. This isn’t a religious thing, but I do feel their presence around me everyday in a way that almost calms me down. It reminds me of the greater things in life and there’s a lot of things I’m going to do in their honor, especially my dad. It’s a bucket list, but it’s not my own, but it will be done because it’s that thing I have to do to feel even a step closer to complete again. If there’s one thing I can’t do, I can’t disappoint them now. Living and creating a lasting legacy is important to me, so I’m determined to make that a reality.
Death affects us all in different ways. There’s no way to define it and tell people how to respond, but if there’s one thing you can do: just be there for people. You never know what people are going through, so just be kind and you never know how that may impact people’s lives.
To my Grandma, I love you and I will never forget each of the memories that we had together. You have no idea the impact you had on me and it will be everlasting.
To my dad…First off, thanks for letting me get surprised with all of your accomplishments. With the thousands of people who came to say goodbye to you, I know I’m not alone in saying that you will be missed. We talked about all of my plans and whether I wanted to be a Shamu trainer or a human rights lawyer or a fashion blogger, you told me to stick to it and do what made me happy. That’s what you wanted before everything else for everyone you met and now it’s time for me to make you happy and make you proud. I will miss you so much and you have no idea how much, no one does and ever will. But I love you and I’ll be here for mom and Julian and we’ll be alright. We’ll just miss you a little more than normal xx