16 November 2015

One Year Later

I didn’t recall picking up the phone, yet a familiar voice was on the other end. It was my dad, and he was asking about the kids and saying how much he would miss them and that I should tell Agent A about him since he knew he was too young to remember. I asked him, are you going to die? and he said yes. But he told me not to worry, because it was going to be okay. And then he was gone. 

This Friday, 20 November, will be exactly one year since my father died. As with most major changes like this, in some ways it seems like it just happened and in other ways it seems like that’s the way it's always been.

The aforementioned phone call, of course, was a dream I had shortly before his death. The last time I actually talked with him over the phone, a Friday afternoon in November 2013, he didn’t recognize me. I suspect he had already had the first of several small strokes at that point, although we didn’t know it yet. That night he was admitted to the hospital and never came home again. 

Numerous doctors struggled to figure out his exact illness based on his symptoms. He was finally diagnosed in mid-December 2013 with tuberculosis meningitis. {Never heard of it? Me neither. It’s rare in the U.S. and he had few of the classic risk factors or symptoms. They said he could have had a latent TB infection for years, if not decades, that eventually led to this more serious illness.}

Even though it would be over a year of hospitals and nursing homes and gradually diminishing hope until we finally lost him, I think I knew that night, that weekend in November when we last spoke, that he was already gone. I remember thinking how much I would miss him, but also having this sense of knowing I had no unfinished business with him. There were no regrets, no conversations we should have had, no things I needed to tell him.

It was a long year {basically The Longest Year Ever} and truthfully much of it is now a blur.

In early October 2014, shortly after my dad was placed in hospice care, the Agents and I decided to go stay with my mom for a while. {And by “a while” I mean I knew that once the kids and I made this 500-mile journey—sans Dear Hubby because he was off doing Navy stuff—that we were pretty much staying until the end. We knew he would die while we were there. The doctors had said he would make it a few days, maybe two weeks at best. He lived for seven weeks after that.}

But here’s the odd, I guess some people might call it bittersweet, thing about that trip. We loved the time we spent there. We had never, ever spent that much time around my parents’ house. The kids never had such an opportunity to play with their aunts and uncles and cousins as they did during those eight weeks or so. We drove over to Washington D.C. {where Dear Hubby was} for a brief visit and it was one of the best trips we ever took. We were at my mom’s house long enough that we had a routine, we went grocery shopping, we cleaned, we did school work, we lived there . . . and the kids liked it. 

Part of me thinks how wonderful it would have been to have made a long-term stay like that when my dad was still around to enjoy it. Yet, honestly, it never would have even occurred to me to do such a thing if he hadn’t been so ill. It just wouldn’t have even been on my radar.

Needless to say, November will always bring with it mixed emotions for me.

We were lucky to have him in our lives for so many years. He got to meet all of his own children and watch them grow up. {His own father was not so fortunate. He died—pancreatic cancer—two months before my dad was born.} He got to meet all ten of his grandchildren {spanning nearly 25 years from oldest—my niece Marie, who is 29—to youngest—Agent A, who just turned five}. He got to see his oldest grandchild get married.

I didn’t cry at any of the funeral home viewings or during the funeral itself. This may seem unusual, especially if you know that I am the kind of person who tears up at everything . . . I cry reading books to my kids, I cry when I see the castle at the Magic Kingdom, I cry during most episodes of Once Upon a Time. Then I realized I just don’t get super emotional during these kinds of more serious events because I’m too overwhelmed. I didn’t shed one tear at my own wedding or any of the Agents’ births. It’s like I block out big emotions—good or bad—until my introvert self can process them at a later time.

Sometimes, just for a moment, I forget he’s gone. Not that I literally can’t remember that he died, but maybe one of the Agents will do or say something that I previously would have called him and told him about, knowing he would have gotten a kick out of it, and it will take a second to register that I can’t do that anymore.

I miss him every day. I have many friends who have lost their fathers as well, and I know from exchanges with them that you don’t just think about it for a week, or a month, or a year . . . you carry it with you every day for the rest of your life. Grief does not have a time limit. It changes, but you don’t simply get past it. The role it plays in your life just looks different with the passing days.

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