It was a little over a year ago when I registered for a creative writing class studying the craft behind writing a memoir.
I’d never really thought about writing a memoir. Fiction was always my goal, but as an impatient and stubborn sufferer of anxiety who was craving a creative outlet—what could be better than infiltrating my own memory to thread together all of the most beautiful and haunting pieces of my past for others to critique and analyze?
Funnily enough, the work I produced in that class far exceeded anything I thought myself capable of. I wrote about my past relationships, losing my Poppop, how losing my Poppop changed my dad, meeting my husband, and getting pregnant with both of my daughters.
It holds some of my best writing to-date.
But I remember thinking, Who the hell would want to read about my life? Nothing traumatic enough has happened to me that’s good enough to be memoir material.
And I realized, much later and very suddenly, that not having good memoir material is usually a very good thing.
I lost my dad three months ago, and the overwhelming periods of grief I now fall victim to are far worse than anything I’ve ever experienced.
I’ve become pretty familiar over the years with daily doses of anxiety and crippling panic attacks—but grief? I wasn’t ready for it.
I’ve become pretty familiar over the years with daily doses of anxiety and even crippling panic attacks—but grief? I wasn’t ready for it. I’m still not used to it. And I hate that it has become part of my new normal.
My dad not being here just doesn’t feel true. It doesn’t make sense. His presence was always an unspoken reminder that everything would be okay. It would all be okay because he would make sure of it, and now nothing is okay.
My first Father’s Day without him has already come and gone, and all I could do was pray that he’d appear somehow. I expend a lot of energy lately tapping into the most childlike remnants of my imagination that still exist—my belief in magic, the supernatural, in miracles—hoping that one of them will help me see him. That something could happen and he will come back.
My life without him has been brutally painful, debilitating, and heartbreaking every single day.
I won’t ever forget the phone call from my mom. I won’t forget sitting in my parents’ living room waiting for the police to tell us it was all just a misunderstanding. He was sleeping very deeply. He’s woken up. Come and see.
I won’t ever forget what it felt like to lose a piece of my soul that day.
My memories of my dad exist now in a glittering world of stars and summertime in the nineties with soft rock playing in the background and something on the grill.
Images of him appear in bits and pieces of pure and colorful happiness:
- He came to my school and brought me a single rose on my fifth birthday.
- He used to deliver late-night, secret chicken nuggets directly to my top-bunk when I was in trouble.
- He’d let my sisters and I put tons of pastel bows, ribbons, and barrettes in his hair.
- He’d walk around everywhere with me on his shoulders.
- He’d wake us up in the middle of the night to watch meteor showers.
- He always cooked breakfast on Sunday mornings and let me eat all the pancake batter I wanted.
- He’d conveniently look the other way when I sneakily moved all my vegetables to his plate at dinner.
- He’d spin me around like a helicopter in our small pool.
- He’d throw me and my sisters fly-balls that went higher than the tallest tree in our backyard.
- He screamed my name during the quietest part of my high school graduation.
- He helped me with all of my math and science homework all the way through college.
- He taught me that the scientific name for butterflies was Lepidoptera.
- He sat with me in the middle of the night when I was still living at home, mother of a toddler, and talked me out of multiple anxiety attacks.
- He’d leave notes on my sandwich bags for lunch from grade school all the way up until I moved out.
- He answered every late night text from me when I couldn’t sleep.
- He always told me I looked beautiful.
- He made sure to ask me every time he saw me if I was okay—knowing every time when I wasn’t. “Everything okay, baby?”
- He’d sign off texts and notes and phone calls with “love you much.”
He and my mom spent their life together putting my sisters and me and everyone they knew before themselves. My dad never wanted us to want for anything, not even food. He’d always be up late at night concocting a special meal for himself. He’d spend a good two hours preparing it, adding spices, making special sauces, chopping vegetables, but if I came home from a party starving or awoke from a nightmare hungry, he’d hand over his masterpiece, just like that.
There is nothing I can do now to fill the gaping hole in my existence. I can’t go to my childhood home without feeling the ghost of his presence and the pain that he will never be there again. I will never be able to share a victory or happy moment in my life with both of my parents together. I can’t ask him what species the demented spider that lives on my porch light is. I won’t see my mom celebrate another wedding anniversary with her husband.
I won’t get to watch my daughters have tea parties with their Poppy. I won’t ever be able to see a butterfly without thinking of him. I won’t get to see my husband continue learning from the man who taught me so much. I won’t be able to breathe in the changing of seasons without aching in absolute agony at the reminder that time will continue moving on without him. I won’t be able to have conversations with him about whether or not Red Dawn could really happen. I won’t ever be able to ask him questions about his childhood or about my own. I won’t be able to talk to him about finally finishing the Dragons of Pern books. I won’t get to see him meet his first grandson this year or walk my sisters down the aisle. I won’t ever stop looking for him everywhere I go, or waiting for a sign that he is close.
There is nothing I can do now to fill the gaping hole in my existence.
These throbbing swirls of overwhelming grief—whether they’re a second, a few moments, or hours—have become an unwelcome yet unavoidable part of my day.
There are days where I accept it, and I work tirelessly toward my work, toward creating something, toward my fitness, toward building up my children in the hopes that he would be proud.
There are days where I’m okay, but I’m miserably missing him and can’t understand how anyone survives this type of loss. I think about everyone I know who has lost a parent and my heart hurts for them and the empathy I could never truly give until now—especially to my own parents, who spent years learning life and raising a family beneath the weight of losing their mothers and a father. I think of all the people who have lost a parent since I’ve lost one or who will lose one soon, and I understand the true meaning behind “praying for you.” Because I am, and I will.
There are days where I am just stubbornly sad, where I can barely pick out what I have to wear in the morning let alone get myself to the gym because none of it seems fair. I don’t want to talk to anyone because I can’t talk to the only person I need. It’s these days when even the smiles and cartwheels and hilarious attitude from my five-year-old are completely impenetrable to the anguish I now carry.
These are the days where the hypochondriac in me doesn’t exist anymore because there is no more fear.
Then there are days where I understand why some people may consider taking their own lives. Days when my eyes are heavy and my heart is heavy and my mind is not my own and I don’t want to be here any longer. These are the days where the hypochondriac in me doesn’t exist because there is no more fear. I don’t worry about how or when I will die because I know I would be with my dad again.
My grief has felt like my anxiety on steroids. It has awakened parts of me I never knew were there, parts that are ugly, extreme, unhinged, erratic, hopeless, and yet—somehow, in retrospect, it has brought me new love, greater empathy, intense gratitude, deeper perception, and a unique light.
Death used to worry me daily—used to be a huge trigger of my anxiety. But how do you worry about things at all when your dad has died? How do you worry about arguments or money or insignificant problems when you could lose someone at any moment? How do you go back to worrying about what other people might think of you when the person who thought the most of you is gone?
Everything is different. The colors of the world have changed. My interactions aren’t as passive. My mind is clearer. I forgive myself easier. I forgive others right away. I see hope in my children. I see sanctuary in my husband. I see hurt in those who hide it. I see my dad in everything.
When I get lost in the tendrils of darkness and my own insanity, I remember that it’s okay. I work to get myself to a better place, and I go back to the summers in the nineties. I time travel through the beautiful galaxy that is my childhood, my adolescence, my adulthood—all the moments my dad influenced the woman and mother I am today.
I remember my wedding. I remember slowing my walk about half way down the aisle and gripping him a little tighter—unwilling to let go of that safety, to let go of his comfort, an unwillingness that is now an everyday effort to hold on to what life was like when he was here.
I wish every night for my dad to come visit me in my dreams. I’ve written him a letter every day since I lost him, just to keep him close. I ask for him to give me strength to move forward and be better because that’s all I can do now—take this light that he has given me and give it away to as many people as I can.
Losing him has forever changed me. And while it’s probably good enough memoir material for a much more advanced writer, I would give anything to be staring at a blank page and a blinking cursor right now.
It takes great wisdom and heart to survive this kind of grief, and I don’t believe anyone could survive it alone.
I fight as much of the anxiety as I can and the many moments of regret. The last time I saw him, it was just the two of us and my daughters. I ate leftover tacos, and we talked about everything good happening lately. He put on a kids’ show for the baby and watched it with her for a bit, then played my oldest in a game of Wii bowling. I remember he wasn’t feeling good that night, but he won. We spent hours there, and when he eventually grew tired, I packed up and went home, not knowing I’d never see him again.
When I get to those moments, lost in a sea of what used to be, I try to remember that he is alive in my memory, in my writing, in pictures, and in the stories I tell my girls. It takes great wisdom and heart to survive this kind of grief, and I don’t believe anyone could survive it alone. Not everyone has children to motivate them through a loss. Not everyone has a supportive spouse or a superhero of a parent left. Not everyone has siblings who are their best friends or a support system that could withstand an apocalypse.
But now, more than ever, I’m thankful that I do.