Finding my reality

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.

My mom loves this picture. She framed it and put it in her room as a reminder that even in the end, Dad was still smiling.

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.

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4 thoughts on “Finding my reality

  1. Vanessa,

    I am from Mobile and went to school with your mom and Vanessa. I was a year younger than Vanessa and a year older than your mom! I met your dad three or four times over the years, but unfortunately I did not know him well. I live in Atlanta and recently realized that one of his close friends from college, Hunter Ewing, is a friend of ours. Hunter told me about your blog when your dad was diagnosed and I have been following you!! I am so impressed with your writing and your ability to express yourself so beautifully!!!

    I lost my dad to cancer on September 3, 2014. Like you, I was lucky to have a smart, fun, loving, and optimistic dad. I just forwarded your last blog to my mom, sister and brother because it described how I feel so perfectly.

    I have always had so much respect and admiration for your mom. Her ability to keep smiling and living while going through more than her fair share as a young girl, and now adult, is beyond inspiring!!! You are right there with her and I know your dad is beaming with pride!!

    I am going to send you two poems that I received soon after my dad died. They seemed to resonate with me.

    I still haven’t sent anything to your mom because I was waiting for things to slow down for her. I would love to know the name of her favorite spa!😊

    Let me know if I can ever do anything for you or your mom!

    Sincerely,

    Wendy Conrad

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. As I read this article I sit amazed at the gifts your Dad gave to you. One being the inspiration he is giving to you now when you are writing your feelings, and writing such amazing articles. He will always be with you Vanessa.

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