I was 17 when my father passed away

I learned early on that the grief at the loss of a loved one
never completely goes away.

Time and again we remember – and we feel the pain once more.

I was 17 when my father passed away.

It was the 20th of July, and he’d been in the intensive care unit for a week, unconscious the whole time. I still remember the morning when he’d had the stroke and we brought him to the hospital. He kept staring at us, as if committing our faces to memory. We didn’t know then that he was already saying goodbye.

The day before, he came home from an official trip out of town. He brought me a pack of M&Ms which I never finished. When he died, I put the remainder inside an empty Gerber bottle. I closed it tightly and kept the bottle with me for years. I couldn’t part with it. I held on to it, I guess, because it was the last present he gave me. Or perhaps it was my subconscious way of holding on to him, because I wasn’t ready yet to let go.

It was only a few more years later that I finally found the heart to say goodbye to the bottle and empty it of its already moldy contents.

One night, I was feeling down and dejected after some unpleasant incident or other. I felt so alone and unloved I silently cried myself to sleep. I dreamt of Papa. He was inside my room, bending over my bed, kissing me on the cheek. I woke up with a start and could almost feel warmth on my cheek where he’d kissed me, as if he’d really been there.

Had he been? Or was it my imagination?

I didn’t go back to sleep immediately but stared at the darkness, thinking about my dream. I remember how sad I was when I’d gone to sleep. Then I realized – or was it my subconscious telling me that I was loved? – that I was just overreacting. Or maybe Papa sensed my sadness and wanted to comfort me, to tell me that he continues to love me even though he’s gone. My heart believed the latter. I thought of him, of how much I missed him. I cried again as the old grief resurfaced but, at that moment, I felt so close to him, so loved by him, and this comforted me.

I went back to sleep, no longer with a heavy heart. I know he is just a loving thought away, for as Thornton Wilder wrote: “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

– Lani Estepa
San Juan, Ilocos Sur, Philippines.

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