9 Things I Wasn't Ready For When My Own Parent Died
It was the weekend after Thanksgiving when my mother and I had enough information to locate my biological father. I'd been looking for him for years, to no avail. Through my painstaking multi-year journey he'd gone to Yellowstone to work as a chef, Poland to teach English to students, and everywhere except where I needed him to be. By the time I found a working phone number to contact him, everything I dreamed of one day experiencing shattered. Of the things I wasn't ready for when my own parent died, the biggest was, and always will be, that I never had the chance to say hello again. Or even goodbye.
I don't have any photos of my father and I together, but I wish I did. When I was young I only spent time with him sporadically, so there was never a regular schedule or routine that involved my dad that I could rely on and look forward to. It's not that he didn't want to be in my life, because he did, it's just that he wasn't allowed to and often refused to put me in the center of the already volatile situation that accompanied my parents' split. He stood down when it came to arguing with my mother, hoping it might protect me. He didn't realize that in doing so, he was actually destroying me.
My story, however long and winding, is a complicated one. I still grapple with the past and things I can't change. Throughout most of my life my existence has felt like a mistake. My father had been treated like a bad decision, and life with the father who raised me (and the brother who's biologically is) wasn't just hard, but sometimes impossible. I spent an unnecessary amount of time dissecting my identity, wondering where in the world I fit. Because of the clear privilege my brother received and the daily micro-aggressions I endured, finding my father was a necessary part of closing the identity loop. I had to know my father so I could feel like I mattered, too.
So he news of his death felt like I, too, had died. I hadn't prepared for the possibility that he might not be alive, or considered the fact that I might never find him. I needed answers about who I was so badly that I was completely blindsided by the news of his passing. He had died four years before I made that devastating phone call, but the news was new to me and I went into shock as a result. Sometimes it's still shocking to think about the undeniable fact that I live in a world that doesn't have my father in it.
The day I found out my father had died regularly plays on repeat in my mind. I wish we'd had the chance to mend some of the broken pieces. Not just mine, but his, too. I just wasn't ready for the news, and in so many ways I will never be ready to face day after day knowing my father is no longer here. Perhaps that's why the saying "death is only the beginning" tends to stick to the inside of my ribs, like a bad ache: for me, my father's death was the beginning of feeling the following things over, and over, and over again:
The Realization That I'll Never See Him Again
In the aftermath of any loss, you're bound to experience some level of shock, even if the death isn't a surprise. But =because I wasn't prepared to hear that my father had passes, I wasn't ready to feel that insane level of shock in any capacity. Parts of me heard the news my mom's lip muttered when she hung up from that phone call, but most of me still held onto the hope of seeing my father again.
I wasn't ready to let go of him, and maybe I never will be.
The Never-Ending Grief
Even when I'm at my happiest I feel aches of pain and sadness that, honestly, seem to come out of nowhere. I think those feelings are forever tied to my subconscious. They remind that he is gone. It never doesn't hurt. Never.
Though my father was allowed to see me sparingly when I was small, those visits changed in frequency and duration as I grew up until, one day, they stopped altogether. The last time I saw my father I was a junior in high school and didn't know he had been diagnosed with cancer. Because I was kept in the dark regarding his prognosis, I didn't make the decision to re-connect again until a few years later and when I became a parent myself.
I honestly thought it would be easy to find him and we'd be able to build on the infrequent relationship we had earlier in my life. Turns out, I was wrong. I'll forever regret not keeping him close while I had him. If I'd known he'd disappear, I would've.
I've been angry with my father for as long as I can remember. Even before I could articulate my pain, I've needed to tell him how he's hurt me by not being there. Out of all the things in life I've been upset about, him dying is the one I can't seem to get past, and I didn't expect to still feel angry all these years later.
When my father died, my anger twisted into all this resentment. I couldn't let go of all I was forced to endure in his absence. Like, maybe if he'd been there for me more, I'd have felt included and I could've found my place in the world.
Had I not grown up in diverse neighborhoods and schools (however financially tough those times were), I'd have never felt accepted, anywhere, without him.
I may never understand why a father wouldn't fight for the right to see his child. Despite numerous conversations my mother and I have had since I found out my father died. I just can't figure out or accept my father's willingness to let me go.
The Loss Of Personal History
My father is my missing genetic thread. Losing my father meant losing the path that would've lead to me to the answers I need about who I am. I don't know how a person can prepare for that; to feel as though your personal history is gone when someone passes away.
The Knowledge That He'll Never Know His Grandchildren
My kids are amazing and smart and beautiful, both inside and out. At the time I learned my father died, my daughter was 2 and my partner and I just decided to try to have another baby. After two miscarriages I gave birth to my son, who reminds me of my father in both his demeanor and the sparkle in his eyes. It pains me to think about the fact that my father never got a chance to meet his grandchildren. It hurts to know he will never see me be a mother.
In 2008, the hole in my heart that had been present since birth became irreparable. I was prepared to finally connect with the man I'd been looking for and ready to tell him how much I needed him in my life. Now I will never have that chance, and the feeling of emptiness that lives within me is one I will never become completely comfortable with.