I’m well past the denial phase, but sometimes it still doesn’t feel real that Dad’s gone. Maybe that’s because he was real, even if he’s not here anymore.
It’s a weird thing to sort through. I vividly remember his voice, his mannerisms, even the way he smelled. I remember what he wore during and after work, his likes and dislikes. I could probably anticipate some of the advice he’d give me before he even said it, but I still asked for the comfort of hearing him affirm what I already knew.
I have these dreams where I’m talking to my mom or my brother or my fiancé about something — always something I can’t remember when I wake up. And as we discuss it, one of us says, “Well, let’s ask Dad what he thinks.” Sure enough, he’ll walk in right at that moment — but that’s where the dream ends.
I wake up and it feels so real.
I think I expected this epiphany once Dad died — that he ceased to exist so my own reality would shift. I would remember him and treasure the memories I had with him, but would smoothly transition into the paradigm of my existence without his. That didn’t happen.
I think part of the reason is that I struggle with what to remember. I spend so much time wanting to remember the good. I want to remember my Dad teaching me how to throw a football or serenading me with The Beatles before falling asleep each night as a kid or cooking shrimp and grits for a dinner party. I want to remember the way he worked hard because he loved his job and how he tried to exercise every day and how healthy he was before the cancer hit.
I want to remember my dad in his prime — the way I think he’d want me to remember him. But at the same time, I don’t want to forget the year he had cancer — the year he lost all his hair and weight, but never his personality. I don’t want to forget what Mom still refers to as the best year of their life as a married couple because they loved deeper and sweeter and more meaningfully than ever before. I don’t want to forget how his perspective changed and his appreciation for life increased.
But when I picture my dad or dream about him, I want to see him as the strong, cautious, kind, thoughtful, corporate person he was. And yet — sometimes, all I can see is what he looked like on the last day of his life: Small, frail, lifeless.
It’s traumatizing to watch someone die. I thought that seeing it happen firsthand would make it more real, more piercing, more tangible. But in some ways, it made more surreal.
So I grapple with it — his reality, his existence, and the changes it’s brought to my life. I miss him, and sometimes I’ll be in the middle of a mundane task and just remember: Dad’s dead.
And I think I’ve come to realize that adapting to this and understanding this new reality is hard, but not because I haven’t dealt with it. It’s because I’m changing from the mindset I had for 21 years of “Dad is” to the 6-month old mindset of “Dad was.” I suppose it’ll just take time.