It’s really late and I can’t sleep. Which sucks. But for the past week it’s become a bit expected. Ever since Dad passed I’ve had a feeling it would become tougher and tougher to eat normally, sleep normally, and think normally.
Because as each day passes, it becomes more and more implausible that he’s just on vacation and will come back some day.
I know it isn’t very rational of me to feel this way but that’s how I’m experiencing it. Yes, I saw him there at the wake, looking as if he was peacefully sleeping. Sometimes I wonder if I’m sleeping. You know, dreaming. Like I said, none of this feels real but it is and I’ve had some very “real” moments over the last week to remind myself that Dad not being here is a reality.
Just last week I was sorting through photos with my sister in order to put together a collage of my dad’s life. I was doing okay picking the photos out because I was just running a simple algorithm: photos with Dad go in the pile and photos without Dad go back in the bin.
This was going smoothly until it came time to pick which photos went on the magnetic boards. For this job, I needed to actually assess the quality of each photo, which meant using emotions and discerning quality from the rest. And of course, it was a long day and I was tired. And alone. When I’m in a room with people, I pay attention to them. When I’m by myself, things can get messy.
So my eyes started getting bothered and I fought back the agitation for a bit. I tried distracting myself by looking at more pictures but it didn’t really help. I kept seeing Dad getting married, Dad graduating high school, Dad with his first kid, Dad with both his kids grown up. Dad, Dad, Dad… So I eventually left the room to go upstairs and collect myself.
But that didn’t help either. By this time I had all of those images stuck in my head reminding me that my dad had a very full life that I didn’t really know all that well. Yes, I knew him well as my dad, but it didn’t quite hit me until then that we were so similar. So in my panicked state, I rushed to the bathroom to go look at myself in the mirror. Mirrors have a calming presence for me. Usually. But when I looked into the mirror that day, I didn’t see myself. I saw my dad.
Family members and friends of your parents will always point out how you look like your mom or your dad. That’s expected, and it’s not that weird. After all, you share similar genes, right? But what doesn’t always hit you is that you and your parents might share some of the same mannerisms or the same values. On their own, they don’t seem so scary. But put the values and mannerism and looks together and you’ve got yourself a living, breathing, younger version of your parents.
After I looked in the mirror, it just got ugly. I walked down the stairs towards the kitchen and interrupted a conversation my mother and sister were having. My head was down because I couldn’t see through the tear drops welling up in my eyes so I was focused on not running into large objects like tables or chairs. I didn’t fully breakdown until my mom asked me what was wrong. I just said, “I can’t look at picture of Dad anymore.” I felt like I made a motion towards the living room to indicate my predicament but that could have been in my head.
Until that moment I hadn’t properly cried since hearing of Dad’s passing. Sure, I curled up in a ball on my bed after getting off the phone with my mom. I even made some angry motions in the shower and my voice wavered a bit when I told people on the phone what had happened. On the ride home, I got really sad when I realized that Dad wasn’t going to make my concert in March like he promised he would. But I was driving so I couldn’t focus on feeling like complete crap.
When you’re being hugged by your family, you feel safe. So I just bawled for a bit with my sister and mom just holding me, assuring me that I was in a safe environment to let everything out. Eventually I settled down and ate some food. I haven’t been that emotionally charged since, not even during the services.
So now I feel like I’m just waiting for it to happen again. I’m not intentionally holding it in. I just know I’m going to be in my apartment or at home doing something by myself (when I’ll be paying attention to my emotions) and I’ll just fall apart all over again. I’ll think of something Dad did, or something Dad can’t take care of now, or something that Dad won’t be able to witness in the future.
When an individual dies, we spend a lot of time and energy talking about how great that person was and how much he or she will be missed. We don’t do this when that person is alive for a few reasons. The obvious reason is that that person would gain a very large ego (most likely), but the subtler reason is that we don’t need to remind ourselves that that person is such a great person.
When Dad was alive, I didn’t need to tell myself how great he was because I knew how great he was. Now that he’s gone, I must resort to memories and rhetoric and… mirrors. Everyone else can cling to memories and rhetoric. I mean, yeah, Dad didn’t need people praising him for how helpful or polite or hardworking he was. And no one needed convincing. But I can’t just wake up tomorrow morning and see my dad taking a vacation day off of work to go renovate the bathroom downstairs. Instead I have to think about the qualities he embodied and think of him that way. Once a person is gone… that’s just the way our minds operate.
And of course, I have the added benefit of being able to look into a mirror and see my dad in myself. At times he manifests himself as a volunteer or a math tutor or maybe even a listener. Sometimes, though, he shows up as stress and pressure and that’s never been very helpful for me because I panic often. It happened before when he was alive, sure, but now that my only “real” portal into seeing Dad is through myself… well, that’s rough.
My sister ended up writing a post a few days ago and she urged me to do the same, even if I didn’t publish it. Of course, I am publishing it anyway, but I do realize it might not be very comprehensible since I’m writing it at two o’clock in the morning. I didn’t even get to say everything I wanted to say. Oh well. The rest can be told another day in another blog post when I’m better rested.