On Life and Death

TW: Death.

Friday, October 4th, 2012, around 11:30am. The campus painting studio was busy with quiet chatter and smelled heavily of turpentine. I was standing in front of a wet canvas with brush in hand, getting ready to make the next stroke when my phone vibrated against the can I was using to hold water. I would have ignored and called back later–there was only half an hour until our lunch break.

The number on the screen said everything. My eldest brother, whom I almost never spoke to unless it was an emergency, was calling me. I dropped everything and ran outside to answer it. That was when I found out my father had passed away earlier that morning. He had just recently had his 66th birthday. I told my instructor what had happened, and immediately packed up and went home.

My father had been diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma sometime in early 2011. Being the tough, man-among-men, workaholic type of guy he was, he continued working between his treatments until around April of 2012, when it was finally bad enough that he needed in-home care. By June, he was a permanent resident of the hospital’s cancer ward.

The man’s strength will never cease to astound me. Through all of it, no matter how bad a day or how much pain he was in, he never gave up. “I’ll get better.” “I’m going to beat this.” “When I get better, I want to ____.”

I wasn’t able to visit him in his last two weeks of life. The hospital he was at was over an hour away, and I don’t have a car. I couldn’t afford to take the bus to the closest sibling who could get there. He wasn’t alone when he passed; my brother was with him the whole time. I’m grateful for that.

My dad wasn’t a perfect person. He was a recovered alcoholic, a workaholic, and a somewhat misogynistic jackass with next to no verbal filter. He made mistakes, and he tried to fix them. He was intelligent and quick-witted, with a seemingly endless supply of useless trivia. He gave me my love of music, and always encouraged me to try everything I could. He taught me so much, and supported me in whatever way I needed it. He allowed me to make my own mistakes without judgement.

I know he spoiled me more than my other siblings. Of his three children (out of five total between my parents), I was his only daughter. But at the same time he spoiled me, he always tried to instill good work ethic. He may have given me that My Little Pony figure, but in return, I had to help him organize his toolboxes. He taught me to never expect things to be handed to me, and to always be prepared to work for what I wanted. He taught me to give my all in every job; to do the same quality of work regardless of whether I was doing it for five dollars an hour or thirty.

I can’t remember ever calling him “Dad”, and he was only “Daddy” when I was a little kid and really wanted something. I always called him by his first name because everyone else did, why not? Having two older half siblings who were born before my parents got married probably helped with that.

As most people are with the deaths of close families, I was devastated. I’ve struggled with depression my whole life, and adding the grief on top of it made me shut down completely. I’d lost someone I loved dearly, I’d lost my job (he had been my boss), and I’d lost my only backup support. I had no source of income and was unable to find a new job in my complete breakdown state. Between then and now I’ve moved a total of four times; I floated between my brothers for a few months and did odd jobs for them, before my current roommate (who had been a roommate at the house I was living in at the time of my father’s death) sent me a message one day saying she’d rented a new apartment and had a spare bedroom, would I like to come?

Her mother is a saint, and paid for my portion of the rent until I was finally able to get a new job in a neighboring town. When our lease was up at that apartment, we moved again to a condo not too far from my work, where we’ve now been for nearly a year. We’ve long since been making jokes that we’re platonic life partners, and that our dog is our child.

It’s still weird. I still want to cry (and sometimes do) when I talk about my dad. But at the same time, I know I’m starting to be able to move forward. I can’t be Daddy’s Little Girl my whole life. Realizing this has made me grow up in ways I didn’t even realize I still needed to.

So here I am, Dana. I’m trying to find my way and to be a good person. I’m back in school. I’m doing well with work. I’ll take everything you ever taught me and get through the good and the bad as best I am able.

I love you, and I miss you.