When I was in the second grade, my dad chaperoned my class's field trip to the beach. None of the kids were allowed to go in the water because it was dangerous, but I remember my dad started taking kids into the water one by one, instantly becoming the Coolest Dad on the field trip. Kids eagerly lined up to have a turn with the dad that was taking kids into the water, and I remember feeling like I was the coolest kid that day.
Today is the three year anniversary of my dad's death. It was a day of remembering things I had worked so hard to forget. Three years since his death, I'd become quite adept at suppressing his memory. I don't talk about him. I don't own a single photograph of him. I don't think about him, though he is always on my mind. And yet, it is days like this that I remember the blue shorts that he wore or his favorite house slippers, and I realize that I'm going to spend the rest of my life missing him.
2018 was the year that I numbed myself to my grief. I didn't have the emotional bandwidth to unpack, process, and contend with the damage my father had made, in life and in death. I refused to go to therapy, pushed all of my friends and family away instead of leaning on them for support, and stored away memories of my father in places nostalgia dared not go. The airport, the route he took home, the Tupperware he took for lunch -- entire places and things were forever marked untouchable. I was angry that I had to experience my coming of age through the filter of loss and adversity. I refused to acknowledge my grief, as a sort of revenge, a "fuck you" to the universe that gave me a lesson in tragedy that I never quite asked for.
However, I failed to realize that by refusing to contend with the shadow of loss, I was only letting it envelope me more. I repressed my dad's memory in the name of healing, but my destructive methods of coping were only deepening the void that he had left in my life. I knew that if I were to continue suppressing his memory, forgetting him in the process, I would soon and eventually suffer a loss that I could not heal from. The only thing I had left of my dad was his memory, and I was on the verge of losing that, too.
Last year, I watched Pixar's Coco, a movie that hit home for me. It taught me that death affirms life: in death we see the beauty in life. It also taught me that I have a responsibility, to myself and to my dad, to remember. My memory of him keeps him alive, and remembering him is how I can thank him for loving me and being my father for 19 years. And, alas, as in the deeply profound, tear-jerker song at the end of Coco, holding on to my dad through memory is the only way that I can be with him.
Though I have to say goodbye
Don't let it make you cry
Know that I'm with you the only way that I can be
Until you're in my arms again
Three years ago, I wrote in my dad's eulogy that I don't know how to exist in a world where my dad doesn't. Since then, I've learned how resilient the human heart is. I've made a life for myself beyond the narrow confines of grief and loss. I realize that I can mourn my dad's death and celebrate his life, and that remembering can be both happy and tragic. Mourning my dad's death isn't antithetical to my healing; in fact, it is essential to it. I cry at his death and smile at his memory, and realize -- grief is the essence of love the way doubt is the essence of faith.
I still find myself tending to the holes he left in my life. But I am trying to heal better: I welcome the imprint that he made on my life, understand the growth that comes from embracing and sitting through a painful feeling, and believe that the day will come when his memory is comforting, not haunting. I am learning how to let go and hold on at the same time.
This past year was a year of forgetting and remembering and forgetting. 2018 was my denial. This is my acceptance.