On Christmas Eve, I watched Anderson Cooper interview Stephen Colbert and maybe that was my dad’s gift to me this Christmas, because suddenly I could find the words, when before there weren’t any.
I didn’t know how to put it into words, how the world feels without him, how I feel without him, but what I can tell you is it feels a bit like Christmas afternoon, like all the magic of Christmas Eve has come and gone, and all the presents have been opened, and while you already feel a longing for the twinkle lights and mulled wine and magic of yesterday, you know, that that magic is gone now, my dad was magic, my dad was my Christmas Eve. Ever since he’s gone I feel like I’m reliving December 26th over and over again, it’s like I’m perpetually stuck in the week after Christmas, the world seems dull, twinkle lights don’t shine as bright, food doesn’t taste as good, and I hate all the songs on the radio. He was my Christmas Eve, my Christmas morning, without him, there’s just winter – the snow’s turned into rain.
I didn’t know how to write it all down – they say “A fatherless child thinks all things possible and nothing safe,” that’s how it felt just after midnight when mom woke me up, I didn’t know it then, but nothing was safe anymore.
As she said the words I’d been trying to prepare for for two years, I realized nothing prepares you for a loss like this. We held hands as we walked down the stairs, all I kept thinking about is how my dad used to carry me up those stairs and now I walked down them, into a world without him.
My dad told me the last time he saw his dad, he knew it was the last time. The thing I felt the most then and still feel the most now is disbelief – I didn’t know it was the last time I would see my dad. That night I got home from work, worked on homework, got ready for bed, looked into the living room to see if he was still awake, and while he looked sleepy, I decided to go and give him a kiss on his forehead, but if I had known that he would be gone in a few hours, I would have laid there with him, not left his side.
It sounds naive, but I never knew how permanent his death would feel. All the sudden I know what forever means, because he’s gone forever – I’ll never hold his hand again, or kiss his forehead, or make him smile, and the weight of knowing how long forever is makes me cry.
In Anderson Cooper’s interview with Stephen Colbert, Stephen Colbert says “The bravest thing you can do is to accept the world as it is,” but I just can’t accept that this is how the world is – that I’ll never become who I was supposed to be because he was supposed to be here with me. My dad and I spoke a language of dodgy glances at holiday dinner tables, his blue eyes and mine could read the other’s mind, wordless jokes, silent laughs, no one ever understood me like him and no one ever will.
Anderson Cooper said that he wished when his dad died that it left a mark on his face, that everyone who met him, knew him, could look at him and know that he was marked with tragedy, with loss – I wish I had a mark too. I feel quiet in rooms I never felt quiet in before, I feel shy when I never felt shy before, I wonder if everyone’s wondering what’s wrong with me, if everyone’s looking at me – does everyone know that I’m thinking about him all the time, that he is my phantom limb?
It sounds weird and terrible, but Stephen Colbert said it in a way that made sense…
“I didn’t learn it, that I was grateful for the thing I most wish hadn’t happened – I realized it… and it’s an oddly guilty feeling, I don’t want it to have happened, I want it to not have happened, but if you’re grateful for your life, which I think is a positive thing to do – and I am not always – but it’s the most positive thing to do, then you have to be grateful for all of it. You can’t pick and choose what you’re grateful for. So, what do you get from loss? You get awareness of other people’s loss, which allows you to connect with another person, which allows you to love more deeply and to understand what it’s like to be a human being, if it’s true that all humans suffer.”
While I feel like half of me is missing, I feel grateful for all I’ve learned in the last two years. Before my dad’s diagnosis I didn’t know what was important. In the early days of him being sick, we went to dinner more times than we had in our entire lives, we held hands, and cuddled on the couch – he told me how much he loved me and while part of me feels robbed, robbed of the person me and my dad thought I would be, part of me knows that the person I am now – she’s a better person than the one I was before – she knows light and dark.
I always wondered if I was strong, now I know I am, because of him.