The day started like any other with a few footsteps and whispers and the blare of my alarm clock. Of course, I didn’t get up. I mean, not really. Do you know a single preteen who willingly gets out of bed? Yeah, me neither. So instead, I tossed and turned. I buried my face beneath the blanket. I smothered it with a pillow and jammed my fingers into my ears, wishing for silence. Hoping for silence. Praying for silence.
Just five more minutes, I begged. All I need is five more minutes.
Of course, I would never get those five minutes, because my mother was up, my father was up, and if I didn’t get up and shut off my alarm clock, the whole neighborhood would be up soon. So after whimpering and moaning and grumbling a few “but I don’t want to go to school” complaints, I begrudgingly got my butt out of bed.
A few hours later, I would regret the way I passed that morning. I would regret how I wasted those precious minutes. And while I still wanted and needed five more minutes, I no longer wanted them for sleep.
I wanted them for me. I wanted them for us.
You see, before the sun set on this day, November 16, 1996, things changed — my feelings changed. Life, as I knew it, changed. Because this was the day my father “passed out.” This was the day my father lost consciousness and collapsed. This was the day his brain bled and his heart stopped. This was the day my father slipped into a coma and an unresponsive state — one from which he would never return.
And while I was immediately aware of his absence and how his death meant he would never hug or help me again, and that I would never hear him talk, burp, or laugh again — I never realized how his death would impact me later in life. I never considered how his passing would color every action and interaction of my adult life.
Of course, it started simply enough. In the days and weeks following his death, little things changed. I began sleeping less, reading less, writing less. I was singing less and drawing less — all hobbies I enjoyed as a 12-year-old.
I pulled away from my family and friends. I dumped my then-boyfriend. Why? Because I wanted to be alone. I needed to be alone, and I knew that distance would protect me. My heart couldn’t be broken if it wasn’t attached. It couldn’t be broken if it hadn’t been won.
When I began dating again, I kept myself sheltered and stoic. I didn’t wear my emotions, or feel any feelings. I didn’t let anyone see my vulnerabilities. I steered clear of honesty and intimacy. I became involved with boys (and later, men) on a topical level and nothing more.
Despite my best efforts, love came. Love wormed its way into my icy, guarded heart, but for many months, I refused to believe it. I refused to feel it and fear kept me from acknowledging it. Fear kept me from saying, “I love you, too.”
Make no mistake, eventually things worked themselves out. In time, I was able to love, be loved, and get intimate. We engaged and married. And we started a family of our own, but death still colored our days and darkened our nights. It dampened our celebrations and special occasions, as I was hurt by the memories we could have — and should have – been making. I was haunted by the moments my father missed and by things yet to come.
You see, my father died when he was young — less than 100 days after his 39th birthday. Now that my husband and I are in our thirties, the fear is back. But it is different this time. I’m no longer afraid to let love in, I’m afraid I will have to let it go. Every day, I worry he (and we) are living on borrowed time.
And, if I’m being honest, it sucks. It sucks to live in the shadow of death and sadness. It sucks to live in a constant state of paranoia and fear. But the truth is, I do. It’s one of the lesser-known side effects of death, grief, and loss.
That said, there is an upside to all of this. I suppose my fear is not all for naught. Because of my father’s death, I live life to the fullest. All day, every day. My husband, daughter, and I are constantly traveling. We go out. We eat out. We climb up slides and slide down hills. We watch movies in the morning, have “kitchen picnics” in the afternoon, and play well into the evening. Dance parties are our favorite kind of party.
What’s more, my father’s death has helped me to let go of the little things. It has helped me to curb my tongue when I want to scream. It has reminded me a glass of spilled milk isn’t the end of the world, nor is an oven of burnt bacon. His passing has enabled me to see opportunity in every situation. Like, that burnt bacon? Yeah, that just means we are going out for breakfast. Losing my dad has put the value of every minute, and every moment, in perspective.
I never go to bed without a hug, a kiss, an “I love you” and/or “I’m sorry.”
So while I fear pain, I fear sorrow. I fear grief and desperately fear loss. I also fear not being, not living, and not enjoying life to the fullest. But not loving with each and every bit of my heart? Well, that’s my biggest fear of all.