My dad passed away a year today. For the most part, my answer to the oft-asked question from friends and acquaintances whom enquire kindly, “How are you coping?” has been, “I’m fine,” or in the capacity of unofficial family spokesperson, “We’re fine.” And I am, and we are.
My dad’s passing was swift — within a week of being hospitalised, he was gone. Even until the day prior to his death, we thought he would be well again. Yes, he was in the ICU, but the doctors assured us that he was showing incremental improvements every day. He was still able to talk, eat, plan future birdwatching trips with his friends from his bed. It was all comfortingly normal, only that he was surrounded by the curious bleeps and bloops of menacing hospital monitors and equipment that could be conveniently imagined away and I believed my family did the same. We never spoke about it during our visits, but I knew we unconsciously sought comfort in the fact that he was a doctor. He knew what he was doing. If he felt that life was slipping away, he would have known, wouldn’t he? He would have told us.
And he was still our dad despite being in a weakened physical state, with an authority that could not be questioned, a pride too strong to allow for sympathy or worry. We wouldn’t have known, we couldn’t have known. We didn’t prepare ourselves for the epilogue, and we shouldn’t blame ourselves. Yet, I can’t help but regret the one day that I didn’t visit him. The one day out of that week that we could have continued exchanging small conversation tinged with repressed emotions between father and daughter. And on that Friday, he was gone. I got to say, “I love you, Pa,” to his unconscious being and I refuse to let myself dwell on the fact that it was too late. I’d like to think that he knew.
What I’ve learned through the death of a loved one is that it releases people. Like an artery that’s been unblocked, there is a sudden gush of unspoken emotions, suspicions, secrets and thoughts that flow through the bonds of a family. My brothers and I like to sit around and reminisce, “Do you remember when Pa would say this?” and there would be lots of laughter and love. When I share a one-on-one moment with Mum even the saddest, angriest memories of their marriage have a fondness that embraces them and I can only seek comfort in that. Then there are the startling revelations of a life that we never knew. The funny thing is that in death even the smallest, most frivolous details will shake you and they take on a bigger significance then they probably warrant, but the need to grasp and understand a loved one is just to strong to ignore, even if it pains you to find out.
One of the most common remarks I receive is that I seem to be doing well, in that, I don’t seem sad or that mentioning my father’s death reduces me into a heap of tears. The reminder quietly takes me by surprise, and there is the lingering question: have I been sad enough? But as they say, people grieve in different ways. It’s the triggers that creep up and surprise me, and they still do even though I know they shouldn’t anymore. Predictably, it’s the hospital scenes in movies that kill me and it’s always the same: the sinking feeling when a character is lying on his death bed, the flashbacks that start fading in and out of my mind, the heat that builds up in my face and the release. I cry, I cry so hard, yet I don’t want people to know that I am crying, so my body shakes. And as suddenly as it happened, it’s gone.
This week I came across this postcard on PostSecret. Again, it was a trigger and I was alone and the tears welled up and fell. Then the phone rang and a voice asked, “Are you ok? You sound like you’ve been crying,” and I heard the meek words coming out of my mouth saying, “I’m fine.” Because I am, but it’s just nice to cry sometimes.Read More