Mental Health Awareness Month 2022: Losing my Father

To close out the month of May, we’re going to be exploring trauma. This article was originally planned for 2021 and while I started writing it, I never finished it. I’ve imagined writing this a thousand different ways and I’ve gone through this many times. I have avoided many teary eyes and choked throats by diverting conversations for the last two years. Death is taboo. And my pain is mine alone to deal with. That is what scares me the most, that as I scream into the void, my echoes are the only voices I hear.

About my Dad

In October of 2019, my father passed away. One moment he was fine and then over the course of a couple months he was gone. Years of drinking had finally caught up with him and in a heartbeat his body gave out. At the age of 26 I was left without a father.

Whatever issues I had with my father, I still loved him and these last couple years have been tough without him. There have been few conversations involving him. I was not ready when he died and a part of me is still in shock that he is truly gone. I’ve tried each May since he’s passed away to write a post about it but each time I’ve put it off. This is more a personal essay than anything else. I’m writing this as a way to process my grief. Some may question the logic of posting for all the world to see but it helps remind me that I am not alone. A journal contains the echoes of my thoughts but a blog is a means to break through the chamber.

A different Time, a different place

I suppose my journey would always eventually lead here. Where once my blog was used as a way to articulate my struggle, it is now a place where I can learn to heal. I still do not utter the phrase ‘My Dad is dead’ and I wonder if this is healthy or a slow poison. I have not found a way to contain the darkness so I have doubled down on being a light. Always a smile when inside I honestly can’t say how I feel any more. It feels like a nightmare. One moment I was a kid and my Dad was my world and the next I found myself here.

I don’t know how people will react

I learned how to talk about my father’s drinking in a productive manner and through the act of writing I learned some things are best left unsaid. All my life I had wanted to feel heard, to know my plight was real, and in the end I realized to let sleeping dogs lie. The reason I even write now is for my father. As caring as he was, he took the weight of the world on his shoulders. He would say everything was fine when the world was collapsing around him. And he drank. I hid this fact as a child and while I still don’t much like talking about it, I can at least articulate my pain. In recent months, I’ve been thinking about him a lot. I started playing Pokémon Go after his passing and I’ve been thinking had I been less angry I could have shared these memories with him. Us walking, battling gyms, and catching Pokémon together. I’ll never know what that feels like.

I’ve started cooking again for the first time since I graduated college and I can’t help think of my Dad and how proud he’d be of the dishes I’ve made and how I wish he were here to share the joy. My Dad loved cooking and I don’t think I truly ever appreciated how much he cooked for his kids. He’d make breakfast almost every weekend and he knew how to use a smoker. And he was always proud, that much I know.

Two years and not a word uttered

Originally, I was never going to mention it to anyone. Then my childhood friend knew he was sick and shortly after his death followed. Then another friend found out and I’ve slowly told only those I’m closest with that he has died. Two years is not a long time. I have redirected conversations because I don’t want others to feel my pain. And perhaps, I don’t want to feel it as well. And the less I talk about it, the less I can understand my grief. This doesn’t mean I’ll go tell the entire world but it does mean I’m tired of feeling alone. I would rather be vulnerable and perceived weak than to appear strong but slowly dying on the inside. I know in my heart this is the path my father would have wanted and to put an end to the generational suffering.

His Dog, Now Mine

Abby I have known since she was a puppy. I was initially against having another dog after Skipper. Dogs are work and to train them takes dedication and time. However, when I saw her, even though I was at odds with my Dad, I fell in love almost immediately. She was a shy puppy and the first few times she saw me she’d back up a little bit when I stuck out my hand. When she was less than a year, she’d trot around the house with her blanket in mouth and would find random spots to plop down with her blanket. Her razor sharp teeth cut my legs when she wanted to play and I typically had to run for the bitter apple spray just to enjoy my cup of coffee in the morning. When my Dad passed, we kept her. Three years later we finally finished dog training and she provides comfort for when I need it the most. It’s strange knowing that my father made the decision to get Abby and in a way through her his memory still lives on. He trained her, he played with her, and he took care of her.

When we don’t talk about our pain

My father helped indirectly shape my current philosophy when talking about mental health and it’s the idea that if we don’t talk about our pain, it doesn’t simply go away but manifests in other forms. My father, for better or worse, always wanted to project the image of the protector. A father that was there, present, invincible. I’ll never know what my father was like in his most intimate moments for he never opened up to me. To his grave, he never truly acknowledged his drinking. I’m grateful that I came back home and wish that I could have spent more time with him in his final year rather than being so angry after he relapsed. I’m grateful I got to have one final conversation with him, however brief, before he became too sick to talk. It wasn’t the conversation I imagined but it made me feel like a kid again where I was simply telling my Dad what I was working on. One of the last things we talked about was my plan to run a marathon and should I ever reach that goal, I’d love to run in dedication to him.

It’s easier to stay quiet, to act like everything is fine. But when we do that, we risk ourselves. There is also a time and place. Each year when I went to write this, I knew I wasn’t ready. I was angry and sad both at the same time. I was angry that my father left his kids so young and I was angry that he drank himself to death with a seeming lack of concern of how much it would hurt those around him. Now I understand a bit better. I went to therapy and while it helped, there were pieces that I had to understand by myself.

The Future

Where do I go from here? I have only visited my fathers urn a few times since his death a few years ago and I’ve only ever gone with family. I have to wonder why that is but it’s most likely the same reason I don’t ever talk about my father’s death. I am still in the process of grieving over the loss and will be for a long while. The anger has subsided and while I do get sad from time to time, I’m still living my life. Most would never guess my Dad died and for now I’ll most likely keep it that way. This is here for those who want to know. It’s the first step in truly accepting the loss and moving forward.

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