What does your Mom do?
It’s harder to see what we have than what we don’t have. Sometimes everything we see appears permanent, ever-lasting, and normal. But normal is tricky. Normal is relative. Example: having both parents alive. This is normal for most college students, but for us it’s just a memory.
Questions, questions, questions. What is your major? Are you seeing anyone? What are you going to do after graduation? As college students we all dread these questions, maybe because we feel insecure with our answers, maybe because they make us feel uncomfortable.
Does your Dad have a job?
It is strange when one dreads questions that one knows the answer to. Even more ironic when dreads a question precisely because of the answer. These questions appear harmless and normal to most people, but not to us.
How old are your parents?
Take for example this last question. Ask it to most people and they will answer it, maybe with the help of a calculator, but still with relative ease. Why? Because most people know how old their parents are and they are willing to share this information. What if, say, your parents were to have no more birthdays? If their age was static, a number printed on a paper stored somewhere? How would you answer that question?
It’s not easy for people with dead parents to be understood by those who enjoy better luck. No one is guilty, yet the gap between the two groups remains palpable. These are some accounts of what it feels like to be different from most students on campus.
People Make Assumptions.
Actual conversation with the man who organizes the composites for Warner:
“Would you like to order prints?”
“How much do they cost? I thought they came in the mail?”
“We’re trying to go green. Why don’t you call your Mom and ask her. We’ll be here until 9pm so let me know by then. I’m sure she’ll want your pictures for graduation.”
Thought: I doubt it.
Actual response: “Okay I’ll come back by 9 if she’s interested.”
My father was extremely ill last semester. Family, ranking way higher than schoolwork on my priorities, pulled me home.
I stayed with him until his last breath, besides his bed, besides my mom and my brother.
No one in my family had died before. Everyone was always in their respective places at our table when we sat down for dinner on Christmas’ or New Year’s Eve. Even my four grandparents, with seven or more decades and patches of wisdom hair, were there to talk to.
No wonder why the death of my dad has been so hard to digest. Without any previous experience with death, I struggle to come to terms with it on a daily basis. The problem is that I am reminded every single day of the void in my life, of his absence. My life is no longer the same and I shiver whenever I think about this.
Fathers are everywhere. In parks, shopping at supermarkets, at the movies and even in the movies. Whenever I see a dad, my mind rushes to acknowledge that I don’t have that anymore. No more bike trips to the mountains, no more words of consolation, no more hugs when I go back home. I know that he will not be at my graduation ceremony. I know that he will not tell his grandchildren about his adventures as a teenager. I know my mom sleeps alone tonight on a King-size bed. And it’s not easy when all these thoughts come barging into my head while I’m trying to write a paper on the religious aspects of the crusades.
I remember when I came back to Davidson in January. Three months had slipped by since I had last seen any of my friends or hall mates, yet it seemed much more distant. Although I didn’t expect everyone to know about my dad’s death, dealing with the issue was a stab to my guts, especially when faced with one question:
How is your dad doing?
The day I got back I bumped into one of my teachers.
“How is your dad doing?” he asked.
Sigh. With my gaze cutting the ground, I replied “He passed away two months ago,” not believing myself as the words sparked out of my mouth.
“Nobody told us about that! I’m really sorry for your loss. How are you doing? How is your mom doing?”
What answer could I assign to this question so that the hurting would be less, so that the pain would be short? “I guess given the circumstances, we are doing alright,” I replied. And I have kept saying that every time someone asks.
“Ok, ok. Well, it’s good to have you back!” Then he kept walking and I kept walking.
Imagine having this same conversation over and over again, at commons, at the union, in the hallways. Every time I saw someone, they hugged me, told me how much they had missed me and then came the how is your dad doing. This was my welcome back. The first weeks were awful, but there was this one moment that I can recall above all others.
I was walking by my dorm’s lounge and a lot of people were gathered. Some of them I had not yet seen, so they shout out enthusiastically as I appeared. Then and there, with most of my hall mates present, how is your dad doing knocked on the door. Silence. I dropped the bomb. Silence, Everyone looked down.
“But I’m glad to be back,” I muttered, trying to ease everyone and leading the discussion to other topics. People don’t know how to answer to that. I wouldn’t expect them to, but that is the way it is. I avoid talking about him to most people, just because I want to avoid making them feel uncomfortable. Its quite sad.
Complaining about essays, tests, schoolwork, commons food, the weather…it all seems too strange. We forget, we take for granted, we run around, we feel secure, we don’t stop to thank and think that those tightly tied to us will transition too.
His name was, is and will forever be Rodrigo. Repeat once more, Rodrigo. That way you won’t forget my dad and you won’t forget that he died. And maybe you won’t forget that your dad will die if he hasn’t already, and your mom too, and you too and so will everyone else you know, or might know, or won’t ever know.
Most of my days seem unreal. I wake up, but it doesn’t feel like it. Trapped in this reality, I live in a recurring dream, a nightmare that comes back every day, and every night, and confuses my North. If you see me running in circles around Patterson Court, dizzy and nauseated, now you know why.
I often dream that he is alive. Sick, but still alive. In the dream I know he will die, as I do in real life, but I can at least see him and imagine that he won’t. Now I can’t. There is no escape. No escaping the pain. And I guess no escaping death.
I once overheard someone saying:
“I did what any college student would do in a bad situation: I called my parents”
Well, I don’t really have that convenience.
Who do I call if I don’t have parents anymore?
Do I call my depressed sister who doesn’t answer my messages?
Do I call my sick brother, who I don’t want to bother any more than I have to?
Do I call my aunt, my godmother with mental issues, who lied and convinced my extended family that my brother raped me? Do I call these people who betrayed and excommunicated me?
I don’t have anyone to call.
I don’t have a shoulder to cry on.
And I hate how I am irrationally angry that anyone does.
Sometimes I’m sad.
I’m not sure if people realize it, though.
Why would they, if I constantly say “I’m good” when I’m not.
I’m tired of lying.
But I can’t just drop this dead parents bomb on any acquaintance in the hallway who asks me what’s up.
How could anyone respond to that news? What do you say to that?
Their blank stares and words of discomfort just sting the wound I opened for them to see.
“You’re so strong”
Thanks for that encouragement- but I’m tired of hearing it.
It’s stated as if I had the option not to be.
Please, someone, give me the choice to fall apart.
I’m so tired of being strong.
…I’ll make do.
Sometimes I bring myself back to the times when my mom would pick me up and hold me.
In the squeaky, comfy, rocking chair of our past
She would rock me back and forth,
And pet my head.
Since then our roles have switched around.
Like in that book “I’ll love you forever.”
I was there to calm her as she suffered
As she was frail and afraid,
And I was there to hold her hand and pet her head.
She and my dad.
Both slowly and torturously dying from different diseases.
Me, young, trying to comfort them
Trying to care for them.
Begging for them to be at peace.
Isn’t it weird when the happy ending you pray for is your parents’ death?
There are times throughout my day—maybe when I hear a friend complaining about her overbearing parents or when I see a little girl reach for her dad’s hand as she crosses the street—when my mind goes blank, and there is only one thing I can think about. One thing, one phrase, one moment, that has begun to define my existence. I prayed that my dad would die. Now don’t get me wrong—I prayed day after day for a miracle. I cried and I begged God to save him. To give us more time. But then I gave up. I sat outside his door, eyes drained of their tears, and pleaded that God would end his pain.
…He was gone within hours.
It was my oldest brother’s, birthday—January 21, 2003—when our dad was diagnosed with cancer. At nine years old, I separated the word cancer from the hideous term that so many around me seemed to be tiptoeing around. Terminal disease. My dad protected me from the realities of what he was facing.
He didn’t tell me the symptoms—the symptoms that would expose themselves in the most painful of ways over the next 8 years. Bone pain. Bone fractures. Broken ribs. Thirst. Nausea. Loss of appetite. Mental Confusion. Infection. Weight loss. Weakness. Exhaustion.
He didn’t tell me the process—the bouts of chemotherapy, the cocktail of drugs, the hair loss, the stem cell transplants.
He didn’t tell me how long—he didn’t tell me that the life expectancy for someone with Multiple Myeloma was around three years. That less than 10% of patients make it ten years.
His death was a process. He fought with every ounce of his being for eight years and, on a quiet day in April of 2011, that moment came—the turning point. If you have every watched someone die you know exactly the millisecond that I am talking about. There is no way to prepare yourself for the moment that the sparkle goes out of those big green eyes you’ve found comfort in for so long, leaving behind heavy, pain filled eyes seemingly detached from the strong soul they once displayed.
I saw the pain in his eyes. I watched as the life slowly left them. So I prayed. I prayed that God would put those empty eyes to rest. I prayed that He would give my father the strength to let go—the strength to, for the first time in his life, be weak.
This story I am trying to tell is not about deatth—it’s about life. We live in a world where death is something we fear. We spend our lives trying to postpone it. We cut out sugar, hoping that it may add a year onto our life or take an inch off our waste band. We avoid adventure because we alarmed when “injury or death” jumps out at us on a liability waiver. We question those who try to experience life fully, labeling them as “reckless” or “irresponsible.” We tiptoe around death—and, and when we think we see a glimpse of it, we close our eyes tightly, looking for every possible way around it.
My brothers and I spent a week together in my dad’s apartment searching for a miracle. When one never came, we felt like we were giving up—but it was quite the opposite. We learned that we had to let our dad go, because in trying to postpone his death any longer, we would be compromising the quality of his life. That week we learned not to fear death, but to fear not living. For eight years, our dad protected us from the realities of what he was facing because when he was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, he chose not to let the disease control him—he chose to live.
Our days to make an impact on those around us are limited. In that last week together, my brothers and I learned that we must live our lives in such a way so that when our children are surrounding us in our final hours, they can find the courage the let us go—and that courage can only come from the knowledge of the fulfilled life we have led.
Sometimes my mind goes blank, and there is only one thing I can think about. I prayed that my dad would die. That phrase—that moment—reminds me to live.
“I won’t die, don’t worry, we can beat this.” I believed you. I thought we would make it. I held the day, the moment, that you would go into remission in my mind as a reminder that you, that we, would be okay. But sometimes life doesn’t give us happy endings. Sometimes happy is ripped from our hands at 3:36 am as you watch the woman who taught you how to dance, how to love, and how to laugh slip away. Not that it was all in that moment. I watched you slip for days. I watched as you faded from the beautiful, vivacious mother who held my life together to a distant form, a shadow, a corpse.
“I hate to be the one to tell you this, but your dad passed away this morning.” I didn’t get to hold your hand. I didn’t get to feel your last breath. I wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. Is it real yet? A month later and I still wait for your calls. I got a job offer yesterday, daddy. My first thought was that I couldn’t wait to tell you. I can’t wrap my head around you being gone. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t add up. You were my rock, my shield, my biggest supporter. What now?
“No, I’m okay. I don’t need anything.” That’s not true. I need my parents. I need my mom to hold me, to tell me she loves me, to grab me and twirl me around the kitchen one more time, two more times, one hundred more times. I need my dad to send that “Good Morning” message, to call 10 times a day so that I’ll answer just once, to call me his little girl, his precious, one more time, two more times, one hundred more times. I need to understand. I need to see evidence of a greater plan. But you, you can’t help me. So I smile, so I say that I’m doing alright, I guess. I pretend not to feel alone in a room with one, with two, with one hundred.