July 28, 2023
A year ago this summer I was in a completely different head space. I had barely said yes to a brand new job teaching music at the elementary school my girls attend and I was starting to dream about the future. Covid had previously paused many of those dreams. Our life went from predictable to chaos, as the country fell into the unknown and our lives became fragments sewn together by Zoom and Amazon. Looking back, it doesn’t seem quite real and maybe that is the blessing of time. How having baby number two sounds like a great idea when the memories of colic nights fade away. How time feels more precious after the wounds of life have turned into scars.
That is why last summer felt monumental. It felt like life was returning to normal, a new normal, but closer than anything in recent memory. The air was feeling lighter and my dreams were starting to return.
Losing my father changed everything. It shook me. Cancer had brought death closer, but it had still felt far enough away, a safe distance. Somewhere on the horizon, but only with squinted eyes could one maybe catch a glimpse.
Until I saw the end coming, but did not want to acknowledge it. Allowing that thought into the room somehow felt like a betrayal, like I was letting him down by even entertaining the notion.
And then I had the dream.
In the early morning hours of a humid Sunday is August, I saw the funeral. I saw myself speak. I saw the faces in the audience, felt the hot tears on my skin, and knew the impossible was possible. I woke up and could not speak of it. The images were too clear, the feelings too real. I had to let my subconscious ruminate.
Two weeks later I received the phone call. After an all day teacher training, my sweet mom called to tell me that my dad was in the hospital, in my home town two hours away. I knew I had to go be with him. Frantically packing the car that night followed by a fitful night of sleep. The next morning I was on autopilot. With two kids in tow, I was a mom and a daughter, torn between parallel worlds that were united by the bond of being caretaker. I desperately just wanted everything to be ok.
The days that followed crashed me down to reality. Masks in sterile hospital rooms, my Dad without the strength to whisper more than a word, and the whir of nurses 24/7. It was the longest two weeks of my entire life. Glimmers and glimpses of hope were what I held onto with both hands. The day they told us they were moving him downstairs and that someone from palliative care would be meeting with us, I felt the numbness wash over me. To see my larger than life father wheeled on a gurney, tubes attached, was overwhelming. As his mind began to wander and drift, I could see the gentleness of God bridge the gap from this life to the next. There was no fear, but only the question of when can I go home? At first I thought he meant the Santa Barbara childhood home that he had built when I was ten and lovingly shared with my mom for over three decades, but on the day he went to be with Jesus, I began to wonder if he was actually talking about another home. A home I couldn’t quite understand yet. Maybe God had pulled back the curtain and given him a sneak peek. May we all be so lucky.
Looking back, cancer gave me a gift. It gave me a warning to clean up my side of the street, to say the words that we so often bury because they are hard to say. To not let a question be left unasked or forgiveness to be broken. I hate that he suffered. I hate the pain from both the disease and the treatment. I would not wish the journey through cancer that he went through on anyone. It was destructive and showed no mercy. Cancer exploits and intensifies every weakness and shatters even our toughest. But the one thing cancer gave me was time. For six years my father showed up daily for the battle. He fought through pain with a smile and did his best to camouflage the true agony from us. I believe my Mom is the only one who saw the truth in the moments his guard came down. A love story defined by the commitment of sickness and health. Even though the disease took his body, it only magnified their love. To see up close the dedication of my mom brings the inkling of tears to my eyes as I write. Love is a verb. It is a million tiny and huge actions over and over again. And that is quite possibly the definition of a successful marriage.
Grief ebbs and flows. It is up close and messy. It is personal and invasive. It doesn’t care if you are in line at the grocery store when a song blares over the soundsystem triggering a precious memory. It shows no mercy when you need to show up for work with your smile and mascara intact. Or the middle of the night panic that leaves your pillow tear soaked. The incessant brain fog that had me believing I was losing my mind. The inability to focus or pay attention to the simplest tasks. And not remembering anything. The simple answer is grief not only affects our heart but also our mind and body.
The passing of eleven months has not taken the grief away, instead I’m learning to carry the weight of it. To cry when I need to and to enjoy the beautiful sunrises I know my Dad has placed in the sky just for me. He told me again and again that life is short, so have fun. In fact, have all the fun. Seek it out because life is also hard and the more fun you can find the better.
Reading back over our texts, it is clear that my Dad was not preparing to die. He lived life beautifully up until his last breath. He had plans, hopes and as always big dreams. To know my Dad meant he was going to ask you what your dreams are and what is your plan to make them come true. Over something to eat, you would never leave his home hungry (Indian culture!), he would tell you a goal is simply a dream with a deadline attached and then he’d hand you a copy of Napoleon Hill’s, “Think and Grow Rich,” and tell you,
“I’m excited to watch you change your life.”
The hope in my Dad was magical. It transformed rooms. My Dad never met a stranger and to know him meant you were his friend for life. Like all of us, he had his moments of humanness namely stubbornness, which I know I got from him. But his super power was believing all things were possible. He saw obstacles as invitations for greatness. Maybe it was because of all the things he had overcome, maybe God put in him an ability to see around corners, maybe it was a mix of both, but the greatest lesson I will forever treasure is the belief that whatever can be dreamed, can be achieved.
As the one year page of my Dad passing away is about to be turned and the calendar closes in on August 29th, I will celebrate my Dad for the man he was and the influence he had in my life. To treasure the best parts and release the times that were hard. To challenge myself to dig a little deeper and not let fear dictate my dreams. To always carry his love with me wherever I go and to never let an opportunity for fun pass me by.