My dad died six months ago today

The funny thing about extreme loss is that people say things like “I don’t know how you’re so strong” and “if it were me, I probably wouldn’t be able to get out of bed. I don’t know how you do it.”

It’s funny because I don’t have a good answer.

It’s funny because I wasn’t prepared for this journey. I was forced to endure it.

Grief is angry. Grief is floating in the Atlantic Ocean’s gentle waves only to find a cat-5 hurricane. A storm that prompts broadcasted warnings and states of emergency. It encourages you to stock up your liquor cabinet, hunker down, and sleep in the closet. It’s lifeguards yelling at you to get out now. Get out before it’s too late.

Grief is palpable. I can feel it in the same way that I can feel my bed as it welcomes my worn body and tattered heart to another night of fitful sleep. It pulls me into its embrace. It’s a subtle comfort that turns into no comfort at all. And I can hold it. I can hold it in the same way that I can catch my tears as they pool in my lap, in my hands, into my husband’s hug.

But grief is also exhilarating. It’s an escape from death. It reminds you what it’s like to be alive, to feel, to hurt. It reminds you what it’s like to hurt so bad — from your diaphragm to your little toes and from your heart to your soul. It reminds you that deep inside, underneath the layers of skin and bones and blood is a heart, a real beating heart, that’s capable of leading you through all of this.

My dad was a great man. He was a healer, a brother, and a friend. He devoted his life to helping people come back from the brink of existence, to understand their own ailments, and encouraged them to join him on their own journey to recovery in whatever form that might be.

My dad was the best man. He had this incredible ability to know what a person needed before they ever knew they needed it. He had this gift of pushing people beyond their own expectations, pushing them until they hated him and hated themselves. He would gently force them to exceed their own abilities until they were not only comfortable but they also loved who they had become. Love is what pushed him to push others forward. Love is what he felt towards everyone around him — big and small, old and young, frail and healthy. Love is what he carried in his heart, so much of it that his heart couldn’t take it one second longer.

Most people don’t know that my dad was once a very angry man. The youngest of seven, I can only imagine that he’d been forced to develop this defense mechanism after decades of coming in last, of having the quietest voice but the biggest presence. His anger was subtle but it trickled into every corner of the three-bedroom house we once called home. It filled his glass after a 10-hour work day. It cushioned his pillow as he fell asleep with his feet propped up and the news turned on. With a 10-year-old, desperately afraid of the dark, who spent years falling asleep on a futon outside of the bedroom he shared with my mom, listening to the news babble into darkness.

Most people don’t know that my dad was once a very angry man because they never experienced it. His healing gift didn’t just extend to others, it reached into him and helped him cure himself of the hurt that plagued him. It showed him how to be gentle and how to love so deeply that even strangers could feel it.

Grief is a journey and nobody prepared me for it, no one except my dad. From the moment I was born as a handful of pounds with a bruised face and worn body to his final hug at the Orlando International Airport, where he held me tight and later cried on the 30 minute drive home, he gave me the courage and strength that I needed to endure this ride through hell.

He prepared me in the way that he was proudest from my kindergarten graduation to my first solo drive in his yellow Nissan Xterra. He helped me in the way he shared his own insecurities and his own stories if it meant that I’d be stronger later on. And even in the way he was staid when I was going into surgery and when I was sobbing over my own physical shortcomings, a gift that came partly from a gene coursing through his own veins. I only later learned that those moments that were so pivotal to my own development ended in his own tears because at the core of it all, he was just a man and he was just a dad.

My dad died six months ago today and nobody could have prepared me to go six months without him.

No one except my dad.