Grieving through the years
Nine years ago today, my father died. I didn’t find out for certain until December 14. But the pain of his passing strikes me on and off for about a week and a half during the month of December.
I get frustrated with myself because I need to stop grieving afresh each year as the Christmas season approaches. But of course, I didn’t grieve for the first three to four years after his death so maybe I’m just encountering a delayed reaction. Maybe it’s as if he died in 2004 and I’m just going through something that would have been natural if it occurred six years ago.
I’m at work today so I’m not bawling my eyes out but my heart is heavy with sorrow. I need to take frequent breaks to gather myself together because I so much miss this man who has helped shape who I am.
I was honest with God today. I told Him “I fucking hate the fact that You took my father away from me.” The arrogance of the statement struck me as soon as it left my mouth. I don’t own my father. I never have; my father has never belonged to anyone except God. I see it as God taking my father away but really it’s God just deciding to bring my father home.
My father was alive for only 19 years of my life. But I started to lose my father to mental illness when I became a teenager, around 13 or 14 years old. Perhaps I’m not as much angry that he’s physically gone as the fact that he mentally began leaving me five to six years before his actual passing. My most vivid memories of my father are some of the saddest (but also funniest, in a mental illness sort of way) ones.
The memories of his sane years are leaving me because I was so young:
- Memories of going to Eisenhower Park in Nassau County and tossing around a football that I was too afraid to catch. (Totally girly; totally unathletic.)
- Memories of putting a picnic blanket out on carpet of my parents’ master bedroom in our apartment every Sunday night to eat dinner and watch CBS’s “60 Minutes” because that’s where the TV was. (The only time we had dinner together as a family and watched TV together.)
- Memories of my father playing music on Saturdays as he and my mother cleaned the apartment from top to bottom
- Memories of my father playing Nat King Cole and Dean Martin for my mother during the Christmas holiday season
So many memories that I’m struggling to remember because they are so easily leaving me as I grow older.
So I try so hard to keep my father alive through the legacy he left me:
- A love for sports (namely baseball and football)
- Keeping up on current events (news and politics)
- The continuation of fiction writing (he believed I had a gift since I was six years old)
- A love for music of all kinds (my iPod plays Lady Gaga, The Beatles, Tina Turner, Miranda Lambert, and Yo-Yo Ma)
- Paying bills on time (he was meticulous about this)
- Social (my father could talk your ear off. I can too after I warm up to you)
Some of the things I didn’t inherit:
- Neatness – Every Saturday morning into afternoon, he’d clean the apartment thoroughly: disinfecting, vacuuming, dusting, and organizing. I think he was OCD (not kidding). But I also know that he did it for me since I had severe eczema and a cleaner environment helped my skin.
- Fashion sense – He was always well dressed. I was always sort of an embarrassment to him if I tried to dress myself.
- Puritan-like work ethic – He’d almost NEVER miss work before he became mentally ill. (Not so with me!)
- Handyman usefulness – He obtained his degree in civil engineering, worked in maintenance, and could fix nearly anything mechanical or electrical. Great with math. (Again, not so with me!)
- Womanizing – As a kid, I didn’t understand why he dressed so nicely and went out on Saturday nights and left my mom at home with me but yeah, I’m pretty thankful to have not inherited this part of him.
He may not have been the best husband to my mom but he was an amazing father—the best he knew how to be. Perhaps I developed some perfectionism issues as a result of his overbearingness but I know he meant well. He simply was a Haitian immigrant who wanted his American-born daughter to succeed in life and excelling in academics was the answer to that.
So perhaps I’m not lamenting my father’s physical passing so much as I am finally grieving over the father that I lost so long ago. It’s difficult to grieve over someone while they’re still alive. If I could liken the mental loss of my father to anything, it would be like losing a loved one to Alzheimer’s. Slow and painful until death is all that’s left.
I know he’s in a better place but there’s a selfish part of me that still wished he were here. And I don’t know how to fight the illogic of that.