I came across your email yesterday. It was from 2011. November. The cancer was still new.
“just thinking about you, I miss you, love you! Dad”
I still remember every minute of my college move-in day. It was hot. It was sunny. I cried as soon as the van turned on. “Never Grow Up”, a Taylor Swift song, came on. You didn’t see me cry then. Not even in my new home. Only when I said goodbye. Mom and I couldn’t stop crying.
We still cry a lot.
You told us not to grieve for you. You admitted defeat from the beginning. The man who taught me about strength. The man who prided himself on the hardened masculinity he established through his years. The man who worked all his life to build a family from the ground. Defeated, wanting no mercy.
How could I not grieve?
I grieved before you died too. But it was different. That’s fear. Hope too, I think. A feeling in your gut. A resistance. Nobody wants to prepare for the worst. Chemically, somehow, I believe you do. You just have to.
You also said you didn’t want a casket. You didn’t want us to spend the money. That was another promise we broke. Because the money didn’t matter. You mattered.
Sometimes your reputation mattered the most.
I can still hear my footsteps leaving our relative’s house. The disease had gripped you. It dug down deep. Grabbed you. Spewed fear. I remember feeling whiplash. You arguing with mom. Me arguing with you. Screaming. Fighting. Yelling.
I’ve never had to pull Mom away from a fight before.
I hope I never have to again.
When you passed, I found out on Facebook. If you knew that happened, you’d think that was pretty fucked up.
I didn’t call anyone at first. I took a shower. I didn’t cry. I just stood in silence. I remember the water being warmer than usual. I still shivered and put on my favorite, light-blue towel. As I got dressed I shook. I fell. My mind never so blank.
When I did call. It was confirmed. I made it two feet before collapsing.
For an hour the floor was the only place I wanted to be. I cried a lot. I realize now it wasn’t just the beginning of a grieving process. It was a cry of relief. The battle had ended. Not well. But it ended.
Forward, I guess.
I’ve gone through the grieving process. Five years of ups and downs. I suffered. I cried. I accepted everything. I did what humans do.
I always think about your absence at the dinner table.
I always think about you won’t get to see my wedding.
I always think about how you paid for my education only to never see me graduate.
I always think about how you’ll never see my children.
I always think about how you said you were proud.
I always think of how hard Mom tries to make up for it.
But mostly I don’t cry for you these days. Although I sometimes wonder why people don’t seem to talk about you. I always try to.
They are too nervous.
I can’t blame them.
Grieving you has been a journey.
For context, I used to lay awake at night knowing you and mom would pass one day. This made me cry. But I told myself that wouldn’t be for years. So I’d fall asleep, much like I do today, trying to press on.
When Grandma died last year I thought about what she said at your funeral. She said it should’ve been her. And I knew why she said it. It wasn’t your time to go. You had so much to see. So much to live for. It still stings that you gave up.
Why did you give up?
Here’s one last thing I think about. A three-part call and response I had as a kid. Do you remember? I still say it to Mom sometimes.
“Good night. I love you. See you tomorrow.”
I’m not sure when tomorrow might be.
But I’ll see you then.