Reflecting on the Death of a Parent

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My dad passed away about 17 days ago now. This is the first time I’ve tried to write about it in any meaningful way. What does one say that doesn’t sound like a cliche? As you can imagine, when someone you love passes, you hear every cliche in the book. “He’s in a better place,” or “at least he isn’t suffering anymore.” (No one has yet to tell me that life is meaningless and all that awaits us is the black hole of death. But if someone did I would appreciate their honesty lol). 

I was in his hospital room when he died, held his hand as the heart monitor dramatically ticked down to zero as died right in front of me. I remember crying but also feeling confused because his chest still heaved up and down. Turns out his ventilator kept his chest rising and falling despite his death. I watched in tears as the nurse and doctor called his time of death. The next 24 hours were a daze of tears and memories and wine. 

But after the initial days after his death, I haven’t felt overwhelming grief. There are no dramatic moments where I wail on the floor and cry “why god why.” Perhaps some of that is the circumstances. He was 82 and his health was declining rapidly, especially in the last 2 or 3 years. Before he passed, I knew it was coming and coming soon. So there is a measure of acceptance around this all. It was time. I know this rationally. 

But grief is a strange emotion and is not rational. His death and my sadness hit me in a thousand smaller moments. Grief isn’t an ax throw to the heart, but rather has felt like a thousand tiny nicks with a dull knife that hurt but don’t kill. Some mornings I’ll wake up and expect to see him at the dining room table reading the San Jose Mercury News, except no one is there. A pang will hit me, and I might feel like crying. But instead, I grab my coffee and start my workday. Some days, I look over on the couch where he watched television and see an empty chair. Some days I look at his picture and see his smiling face and just miss him. But the days just pass on, languidly at first, and now quicker and quicker as my life returns to normal and I start to work again. 

I loved and still love him. He was in many ways an unknowable man. He didn’t say much and especially when he was a younger man, he wasn’t particularly warm. But later in life, his gentleness began to shine through and I loved that side of him. He was genuinely kind and caring in a way I never knew in his later years. One of the last texts I sent him read, “Just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your gentleness of late. Thank you for it.” He didn’t respond. But I think he appreciated it. We weren’t very close for most of my life. He was often closer to my brother or other friends. But we had our moments late when we were vulnerable with each other, and I am so grateful for that. 

And now he is gone, and there is an emptiness. I’m 42 now. I feel like the death of a parent has indoctrinated me into a club that I didn’t want to be a member of. Somehow it feels symbolic. I am no longer a child. I am the next generation. Death awaits me too. How to make sense of what doesn’t make sense? That is life, death, and meaning. I don’t know. I look to my Buddhist teachers for solace. And the only solace I can return is that the present is here. Be here for it. 

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