Today was my due date in 1996. I would be turning 24 today. Instead, me in the womb, decided to hold off and grant the future me some space.
Four years ago my dad took his last breath. And 24 years ago I was born on October 8th… instead of today.
I should’ve seen him while he was dying. It’s something I carry with me each day. I wasn’t prepared to deal with death when I was 19. Let alone experience the lives ending of my longest childhood friend and my father only five months apart.
I wonder if our culture wasn’t so desperately afraid of aging and dying if I would’ve been more prepared. If I would’ve dropped out of school. But even in the dying moments – it’s just not real until it’s real. I blame the culture we’ve cultivated because half the time it’s too hard to blame myself.
On my drive home I knew he was dead. My mom was responding tentatively. And if for some reason I needed more than my intuition, there were ultralight beams coming through the thickest clouds guiding me home.
It took me at least four hours to get out of bed in Boone and make the 2 ½ hour drive home. I wrestle with whether or not my mind and body were protecting me from something I’d never be able to unsee, or if I was just wrong and a coward. I was too late to watch him die. Subconsciously, I knew what I was doing.
I combat the weird American-ness within me (and all of us) that makes everything a competition, even and especially, our pain. Sometimes it feels like maybe my family experiences more suffering than I do. That when I got home everyone was wishing they could trade their eyeballs for mine. That maybe I cry less than everyone else because I just don’t have the recollection of the five senses’ experience of death.
I can’t see his fragile, unconscious self. I can’t smell the body of a dying human. I can’t hear the infamous death rattle. I can’t taste the tears and throat lumps they all felt. I didn’t get to touch him one more time or hold his hand as he left. I can only imagine. That feels unbearable enough.
I shy away from talking about his last moments with other people because I’m embarrassed that I wasn’t there when I could’ve been.
I’ve always felt guilty about it. I’ve always felt that maybe I missed a part of the process that is integral and imperative. That I was not there for him. Anyone who knows a loss like this, knows grief-guilt. It comes in many, many forms. Would you rather be haunted by the memories of your loved ones in their dying moments or would you rather be in my grief-guilt? Purple Issue.
We had a special bond. A deep father, daughter connection. Sometimes I think I’d be worse off if I saw his life force leave his body. And sometimes I think I’d be a better person and daughter for it. My mom assures me nothing was the right or wrong choice. And I knew I would feel this way with either decision I made. Purple Issue.
The coroner’s office called the next day to check if I wanted to see him one last time before cremation. I still said no. Our last moments together were deeply beautiful, I remember not wanting to compromise it. Was that a defense tactic or real feeling? I still don’t know.
I think if I could make the decision now I would have seen him die. Part of that is because I don’t fear my own death now. Whereas four years ago I was only beginning to grace the concept of contemplating my impermanence. I think if I knew all then that I know now, nothing would’ve left me hesitating. Purple Issue.
I would’ve had more conversations. I would’ve interviewed him. I would’ve picked his brain and wrote it all down. I would’ve spent every night by his side. I would’ve been more capable to show my love. I would’ve probably watched him die instead of imagine what my family saw for all these years.
But the mind-fuck of it all is that who knows what could’ve happened to me if I did see him die. Would it have destroyed me? Would I feel less purpose in my current life? Would it have sent me over the edge? Purple Issue.
I remind my true self to give my human form compassion. As she is learning and unlearning. Trying to forgive in the areas of lack. She did the best she could with the situation, knowledge, and cultural influences at hand. I know a second chance is in my present, past, or future lives.
Am I happy that today wasn’t my birthday? I honestly don’t think it would matter either way. Because I celebrate my heart beat each day. Ten days later doesn’t really change the pain I feel in these months of the year or the grief I carry in each waking or sleeping breath.
We miss you.