I recall that in the presence of death I have never felt so much love, seen such devotion given, such support lavished on my father and us, his family. A man dies as he lived. How do we live on after losing someone so integral to our life? He wasn’t just my father, he was my mentor and role model. He was the quiet strength that I never took full advantage of but craved and benefitted from whenever I called.
October in New Jersey. Dad’s memorial service. Out from the blue my body began to tremor. My ma spoke into the microphone about my father and tremors turned to shaking. I inhaled slowly, demanding of myself the impossible, that I had better keep my shit together. No sooner had I finished telling myself that did I lose it. My head dropped and my hands covered my mouth and then my face. My stomach twisted and my heart wrenched. I was sitting on a bench with a eulogy for my father in hand. How? Why? My sister put her hand on my back – I was losing my mind, I wanted to scream. I wanted to stop the service, as if shutting it down would deny the fact that my hero was dead. Dead. The word sounds so absolute. And it is. Life would always be the same but I would not.
I delivered his eulogy with a croak in my voice – I didn’t sound like myself to myself. I looked into the crowd and saw two of my best friends, two people who have always opened their hearts and home to me over the years. I knew him since first grade and his girlfriend for years. It took everything I had not to break down and sob. I needed, I wanted someone to hug me and not say a word. I felt my strength waning as I spoke, panic setting in as I neared the end of the eulogy. I flashed back to pulling up to the service in the car. The honor guard waiting. The Patriot Riders waiting. Lawrence and Tonya watching their friend approach his father’s memorial service. My mom barely holding it together, being reminded with each passing second why she was there, the hot pricks of the bitterness of loss nudging her forward through the service with me at her side and her other children in tow. The sound of rifles unleashing in a 21 gun salute, causing me to shake violently, my mom squeezing her eyes shut with every round that went off. I was told it was a beautiful eulogy and I know everyone meant it. I’m glad they thought it was beautiful; it was the most horrific experience of my life.
My brother played the guitar and my mom sang to it to honor my dad. My sister put on a hoop performance for him – I listen to that song she hooped to on loop sometimes for hours if I’m alone, as if it will somehow help me out of this shock. “The Mountain” by Trevor Hall. Way up on the mountain. Mountains. The mountains of Palm Springs, California that towered over Eisenhower Medical Center in California.
The evening of my arrival I walked my Dad through the halls of the hospital. He gripped my forearm and walked with a cane in his other hand. The last time I had seen him he was dressed and could walk on his own. Now he was in a hospital gown and straining to breath as we walked, grimacing from the pain. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t right!! My own father was dying right in front of me, it’s so fucked up. I wanted to take the cancer from him, my daughter was due in June – just over two months away and I knew he wouldn’t be alive to be present at her birth, to be able to enjoy unrestricted access to his new granddaughter. I begged and begged for my father not to be taken from us even though I knew it was just life unfolding.
At the end of our life we have lost so many people we care about and love – how do we survive to that point? We will never be whole again, we live on as mosaics of shattered pieces – and I a new man, a new form that I did not ask for but must live on with. Live on? Food doesn’t have the same taste. Music isn’t what I remember it to be. I pause to take in the world around me and intellectually it all registers but emotionally there is nothing there and it lacks meaning. Familiar places feel foreign. Sometimes I don’t even recognize where I am yet at the same time can move about and get to where I need to be. I am numb.
The only other time I feel like a participant in my life is when I am with my daughter. Her smile, that beautiful smile and her laugh cause a warm rush within my heart. Watching her open and close her hands as she looks right at me and raises her arms – such love! I have no desire other than to lift her into my arms, look into her big beautiful blue eyes and tell her that I love her, that I would move the mountains for her. She wears a lot of bows and headbands with flowers on them. She should. Her middle name is Rose and she’s more beautiful than the finest. I am finally able to provide for her. It took just under a year of unbroken determination, 13+ hour work days, broken bones and sweat to achieve liftoff but god dammit I did it and will continue to. I have almost fully managed to put aside the numbness, the grief while at work. I have to. My Dad worked his ass off and had an unmatched work ethic to provide for us, to support our family and I will make sure I continue to do so for my mija. I am a good father and little M deserves that.
Rarely am I afforded glimpses into my grief. I don’t know whether to fear that or be grateful. I still cannot fully accept that he is gone. It can’t possibly be true. I have too many amazing memories of him for his presence to be replaced with a vacuum, a void. Grief seems so much bigger than mankind, transcendent of it. Grief is a Gemini, it’s twin is love. Love, a quality whose fullness does not depend on us for existence, but whose beautifully speechless nature illuminates our hearts, enriches life and compounds it’s purpose.