And Dearly He Loved Me

I was almost twenty when my father died suddenly of a heart attack. I was the last person to say goodnight to him, something I was raised to never forget to do because you never know if you’ll have the chance to say it again the next night. It was my brother who found him and noticed that something was wrong when he cracked a joke, like he always did, but got no reply. My mother and I were asleep and were shocked away by his yelling.
    I only cried once at the funeral and that was more because a stranger gave me their condolences. So, it might have been tears of appreciation for the kindness of strangers; or maybe not; or maybe it was both.
    I didn’t think about my dad much the year following his death. As far as I was concerned his death was neither tragic nor happy; it just was a way of life and there was no use shedding good tears over something that is out of my control. I couldn’t have saved him even if I tried. I was never a religious person but I did believe in God and as far as I was concerned, God was just acting in another of his mysterious ways. It was like voluntarily committing yourself to an insane asylum to try to figure out why it was my dad who died rather than anyone else’s. So I ceased to think about it much. Besides, I was still alive and had my life to get through. I couldn’t sit around mourning all day.
    I didn’t want to tell anyone that my dad passed away. I felt like I was admitting to failure. I also didn’t want to say out loud that he had actually passed. It was three days after when my mother gently forced me to call at least my best friends. I called Jerry first because I was closest to him. I told him quickly and I was on the verge of tears (to my embarrassment) so I asked him to call Suki to tell her too. They all came to the funeral. Suki flew in from Ottawa, where she went to school. I was glad to have them there because they lightened my mood a little bit.
    But they had never really known my dad. Jerry had talked to him a couple of times but that was it. None of my friends had ever actually had a proper conversation with him. Later I thought how unfair it was that all three of them should get to keep their fathers and I had to lose mine. As the months went by and I got back into the swing of my life I started resenting the fact that my dad was gone so soon because I wouldn’t be able to share any of my life’s milestones with him. I realised I was being deprived and it made me more angry than sad that he had passed.
    His death suddenly made me aware of my vulnerability. My whole life I had been blessed with two parents and though I never voiced it, I think I always believed that if one parent passed I at least had another one left. The realisation that I now had only one parent left conceived in me a fear – paranoia, really – which had me constantly looking out for my sole remaining parent. I began calling her in a private panic when she didn’t come home the time she said she would. I demanded to know where she would be and her estimated times of arrival. My mother quietly consented, perhaps understanding that I was still shook up by my father’s death.
    A couple of days after my father’s death my mother asked me to sleep in my parents’ bed with her. She couldn’t stand the idea of sleeping on the large queen sized bed with the emptiness beside her as a constant reminder of her loss. Though I felt weird about occupying the space that my dad had laid in not two nights before, I agreed to it because it would please my mother. I saw her as fragile and vulnerable for the first time in my life and it frightened me. Her body heat assured me that she will still alive.
    When I returned to my own bed a few months later I felt a panic because I couldn’t be sure if my mother was still alive or not. That’s when I started creeping up to her sleeping form to make sure her chest was still moving up and down.
    My dad was a journalist by profession. Writing was what he loved to do and he’d always wanted to write fiction but his many years writing in the curt, dry, informative style of newspapers made it impossible for him to write colourful prose. I ended up being passionate for fiction and my dad loved everything I wrote and encouraged me blindly. I got my first story published in a school magazine about six months after my dad died. My mother isn’t much of a literary fan so an absent-minded nod in reply to my news was all she was really capable of mustering. We both knew that had my dad been around, he would have been jumping off the walls with pride.
    I feel I’ve become the invisible child since my dad died. My mother can’t bring herself to share my interests because they are so far from what she’s familiar with. She gets along better with my brother who excels in the sciences and shares my mother’s love for animals and plants. I never noticed how weak my relationship with my mother was until my dad died because my dad always made it a point to tell anyone who’d listen just how proud he was of me and what I was doing with my life. It embarrassed me at the time but now that I don’t have it anymore I miss it.
    Sometimes now I’ll wake up suddenly at random hours of the night with a feeling of anxiety in my stomach. I’ll check to make sure the doors and windows are locked, I’ll check to make sure my mother and brother are all right, I’ll check on the cats, I’ll even check under my bed. It’s when I lie back down still with that feeling that I consider that it isn’t anxiety I’m feeling. My thoughts then drift to the days when my dad was still alive and he’d be the one to check the doors and windows and check up on all of us before going to bed, and I’m suddenly hit with an intense love for him which is quickly followed by an intense sadness at the fact that he’s not there to do it anymore. It’s those nights, which are few and far between, that I cry over the fact that my dad’s dead.