Sometimes when I’m alone I think of the things that I never got to do with or say to my dad before he died. I wish that I had spent more time with him helping wash the dishes or playing basketball or listening to his stories about growing up in the Philippines. I also think about the future without him. He doesn’t get to see me graduate. He won’t walk me down the aisle on my wedding day.
On the night my dad died three years ago, I had been working on an essay due the next day for English class. My dad lectured me that I shouldn’t leave my work until the last minute. I replied in a grumpy tone, “You don’t have to tell me what to do.” I was still working on the essay when he gave me a bottle of water and went to his bedroom. When I finished the essay around midnight, I thought about going into my parents’ room and saying goodnight and “I love you.” But I didn’t because I didn’t want to wake them up.
A couple of hours later, I woke up to my 12-year-old little sister shaking me. My sister looked frightened, and I heard my mom screaming and sobbing. I followed my sister to the living room. I saw my dad on the floor lifeless while the paramedics were trying to revive him with CPR. All I could do was cry, “Dad!” I thought, “Oh please! No, no, don’t leave us, Dad!”
The next thing I knew, the paramedics were saying that they had to take him to the hospital because they couldn’t revive him. When my mom followed one of the paramedics outside, I noticed that my sister and my mom were crying, which caused me to cry. I had been trying to be the calm one. During the car ride to the hospital, my sister and I held hands as we prayed for our dad to be OK.
When we arrived at the hospital, one of the receptionists said that minors weren’t allowed in the patient rooms, so my sister and I had to wait somewhere else. When my dad’s brothers came to the emergency room, I thought that if this wasn’t life-threatening my mom wouldn’t have called them. But, I told myself, “Be optimistic! Maybe he’ll come home soon enough.”
After waiting nearly four hours, my mom told us it was time to go home. So I began asking questions. “When is dad coming home?” “Is Dad OK?” I stopped asking questions after about 10 times of her not answering me.
When we got home around 7 a.m., my mom kept looking at my sister and me with a sad expression and then she would look away. I knew she had something to tell us. She said, “Girls, I’m so sorry but Daddy died.”
My sister started to cry but I thought that this was a nightmare and I would wake up. “No, you’re lying! You’re lying!” I cried. I kept repeating this but after looking at her I realized that she was telling us the truth. I wailed until it was hard to breathe. I couldn’t believe that my dad was dead.
After crying, I called and texted some of my friends and told them that my dad died. They said that they were shocked and felt sorry for me. I was touched by their concern but I missed my dad so much that nothing would have comforted me unless they could bring him back to life.
I didn’t know he had health problems
Later that morning I asked my mom how he died. She said that the doctors told her he had a heart attack in his sleep. I was surprised. I always saw my dad exercise on the weekends and he didn’t eat junk food. A few days later though my mom told me that my dad had been experiencing problems with his heart before he died and he had had a heart attack eight years before. After she told me this, I wished I could have done something to prevent this. Even though I knew it probably wouldn’t have saved my dad, I wanted to go back in time and exercise with him.
The day after my dad died, my mom, sister and I tried to have a normal breakfast. I stared at the seat my dad would sit in. I remembered sitting next to him and the sound of his laugh when he would tell jokes. As I stared at my plate, I could picture my dad’s special potato omelet that he made every weekend. I could even smell the pepper. I started to cry. I told my mom and sister, “I miss Dad.” They started crying with me.
For the next 10 days, a lot of relatives and my mom’s friends came to the house. As a Filipino family we have multi-day viewings with a memorial service and a funeral. The first day of the viewing would be the first time I saw my dad since he had died. I was afraid. When we saw his body in the coffin, my mom and sister started to cry. For some reason, I didn’t cry. I stayed quiet. I came closer to his body, touched his cold hands and realized that he was gone forever.
To comfort me, my relatives would say things like, “I know how you feel, but you’ll get over it.” Or “Oh, your dad’s in a better place now.” Their clichéd words didn’t make me feel any better.
But they also told some funny stories about my dad, like when he had an afro hairdo. However, I was sad that we wouldn’t have new stories to share in the future. We’d never again see him working in the garden or laugh at his corny sense of humor, like when he’d scare me by hiding behind the front door when we came home from shopping. My sister was hardly ever surprised but I would scream, even though I knew he was going to do it.
For the first couple of weeks of my summer vacation, my sister and I had to stay at home while our mom went back to her job. That first day my sister and I spent 15 minutes holding on to her because we didn’t want her to leave. We were scared that she would get in a car accident and also die. But she told us that she had to go to work to support our family. We eventually watched her leave for work.
A week later, my mom told us that my Uncle Bebot was coming to the United States. He was coming to help my mom for two months. I was happy that we would have another person living in the house, which had gotten too quiet since my dad died. But Bebot and I didn’t get along that well.
I was too mad to appreciate my uncle’s help
One day, I was outside while my uncle was gardening when he said, “Alexia, I know that you’re the oldest now. You have to take care of your mom and sister.” Then he told me how as the oldest child in his family he had to take care of everybody after his dad had a stroke.
It felt weird that he was lecturing me like he was my dad. Even though I would get annoyed when my dad had told me what to do, I was OK with it because that’s what dads do. My dad would tell me, “Study!” whenever he caught me procrastinating and he would dispense advice by saying things like, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes you stronger, healthier and wise.” I would blow off these motivational quotes, but I’ve grown to miss them.
I started to get angry at every little thing Bebot did. The worst was when he changed the stepping stones in the garden and planted some of my dad’s vegetables in different spots. I wanted to yell at him but I couldn’t. I was afraid that my uncle would get offended and want to go back to the Philippines. I didn’t want my mom and sister to blame me for chasing away the person who was trying to help us.
A month after school started, I went on a retreat for Confirmation class. During the retreat, we had to be alone and think about God. After a few minutes of reflecting about how I’d been dealing with my dad’s death, I realized that I had to seek help. I felt like I shouldn’t have been getting so angry at someone who was trying to help us. My relatives and the brochures I had seen at the mortuary said that it would take two years to get through the grieving process. That seemed like a long time to be so sad and angry.
I told a woman at the retreat about how I felt angry when my uncle started acting like a father to my family. She said that it’s normal for him to act like a fatherly figure and that I should tell him how I felt. I realized that my uncle wasn’t trying to replace my dad, he was just trying to help us. I regretted how rudely I’d been acting toward him.
A week after the retreat, my uncle had to go back to the Philippines. As we said goodbye to him, my mom, sister and I cried. I appreciated everything that he’d done for us and I worried that the house would be a depressing place after he left.
My priest’s advice comforted me
Five months after my uncle left, I started to feel more normal. I was talking to a priest at my church and I told him how I regretted being angry at my dad the night he died and how I didn’t appreciate him enough. He said that I shouldn’t focus on my feelings of regret and being angry at myself, but I should remember the love that my dad gave me.
Since it’s been the three of us, I help my mom more with chores. My dad used to have to ask me to help out around the house but now when I wash the dishes, I do it willingly. And when I talk with my mom about her problems, I’m not only filling my dad’s role, I’m also honoring his memory.
Although I’m slowly getting better, I still feel the loss of my dad whenever my classmates talk about their parents. Sometimes, I even forget that my dad died and think that he is waiting for me after school. I’ll never forget my dad.