In honor of Father’s Day, and in the spirit of my newfound joy of blogging, I thought I would share one of my earliest pieces. I was an avid writer through grade school and high school but found success with my essay “The Other Side of Grief”. I wrote this during my junior year and won first place in the Palm Beach county essay contest that year. My creative writing teacher assigned a personal essay on growth and I immediately thought of the death of my father. All of these years later it still brings tears to my eyes but I know he is watching over me and so proud. Without further adieu…
“The Other Side of Grief”
Growing is something you are not able to control. Many things add up to the adult you become. Some of our experiences are joyous and are a pleasure to participate in. Some, however, bring tears to our eyes each time we remember them and fill our hearts with a mixture of anger and grief each time they are revisited. The event that altered my life and forced me into the “grown up world” was the death of my father.
Entering third grade was a huge milestone for me. I was finally allowed more freedoms at home and at school. Third grade also became memorable because it was the first year my father drove me to school. Each morning, after saying good-bye to my mother, we would get into our car and head towards school and work. Morning car rides together became a ritual for us. I would chatter away about my friends, teachers. or sports, while my father listened intently. I loved him for that. No matter what it was I was talking about, he always seemed to care.
About two months into the new school year, a change occurred. My father, who owned his own psychology office and never missed a day of work, began to sleep late and miss two and three days of work a week. He still brought me to school but instead of the peaceful smile he perpetually carried, his face had been taken over by deep worry lines and a solemn stare. I would constantly ask what was the matter and why he and mom were always so upset, but he would always answer with a weak smile saying, “Don’t worry, sweetheart, everything is fine.”
Around Christmas time of 1990, life at home took a turn for the worse. The only times my father would get out of bed and dress was to go to the doctor. It seemed he was always going to a different doctor and he and mom were leaving us with babysitters more and more. Christmas morning finally arrived and my brother, sister and I were up early to see what Santa had brought us. Instead of jumping out of bed like he had always done on past Christmas mornings, he slowly walked towards the tree, remaining on the couch most of the day. We were so excited with all of our new toys that we didn’t even stop to notice our father’s pain. He relentlessly struggled a smile when we showed him all of our gifts, yet his eyes portrayed all of the anguish he was enduring for us, for his family, on Christmas morning. Three days later he was admitted into the hospital.
For two weeks, my aunt stayed at our home, while my mother spent many long nights at the hospital keeping my dad company. When my mom did come home, she told us Dad was doing better and he would be home soon. He always sent hugs and kisses to his favorite children.
He was finally allowed home and I was so excited. I spent the entire morning drawing pictures and making cards for him. As our car pulled into the driveway, I watched from my bedroom window as my once strong, handsome father, tightly gripped my mother’s arm with his frail hand and walked slowly into the house. I ran to hug him and was almost frightened by the person I had once thought so heroic. His hazel eyes were glossed over; most of his dark, curly hair had fallen out, and he had lost almost forty pounds.
We spent the afternoon together catching up. He told me that he was sick, that he had cancer, and that he wasn’t going to get any better. Sitting on his bed with him holding me in his arms, I began to cry. He held me tighter and told me not to cry, that I had to be strong for my brother and sister. My father told me that he loved me and that no matter what happened, he would always love me. We sat together awhile longer until he fell asleep. I kissed him on the cheek and crawled out of his arms. I didn’t really understand what cancer was or why my father, of all people, had to suffer. At the tender age of ten, life seemed so cruel and unfair. Four mornings later, I was shaken away from my bed by my mother; my dad hadn’t woken up.
The next few days were a blur of family, friends, and condolences. I didn’t want to hear what people had to say. My father, my role model, was gone. No comfort in the world helped. I tuned everyone out and sat through his funeral in a daze. My once perfect life had been consumed by the darkness of reality in what seemed like seconds.
In retrospect, the time with my father I will always cherish. But because of that early tragedy in my life, I’ve been forced to deal with more things than most people can imagine. Because I am the oldest child, new responsibilities abounded after my father’s untimely death. Instead of playing outside with my friends, I had to watch my brother and sister, start dinner or fold laundry. It took many years for me to overcome my sadness and I still think of my father everyday; however, life does go on. Almost twelve years later, I am still able to remember all of the happy times we shared. Because of my father, I feel I am a much stronger person and I know that he is very proud of me. And for that, I thank him and will remember him always.