My aunt died last week. She was my dad’s sister. She was 79 years old. My brother and I visited her in a hospital north of Seattle Thanksgiving eve. In that room, I was struck by how much she looked so much like my father. They shared the same skin tone, the same facial curves, the same hands. She was asleep but I held her hand for a few moments, thinking healing thoughts for her and her family.
When she died the next morning, it was as if it uncorked what I always suppress at this time of year–the incredible, crushing sadness of missing my father, my oldest brother Antonio and my best friend Isa. My dad died 17 years ago, my brother 11 years ago and my best friend died the next month. That last sentence has been paralyzing me and it’s like until I say it, I can’t speak of anything else.
This is the bottleneck.
I have other cheery items to share, topics that don’t knife through me but until I say something and not repeat what I have done every year which is not say anything, not speak of it because of how hard that truth is, I can’t share authentically.
Death is such a business, especially in my culture. There’s very little room to talk about feelings and pain and not understanding the enormity of being a 10 year old girl and living the rest of your life without your father around. One person dies and everyone scrambles to schedule the mass, the funeral, the nightly Catholic rosary. There’s so many detail and event planning that it leaves no space for people to grasp how sad it is. Or maybe they do know and it’s easier to make arrangements than deal with the reason why you are all together.
I have had this site since 1999 and this blog since 2004 and only now I am speaking of my father. I’m the youngest in my family so my experiences with him are different from those of my siblings. Their relationships with him developed past their childhoods. They became teenagers and then adults. They graduated high school, began college, had children of their own. But my relationship is encapsulated as that between a father and a girl in the fifth grade.
He was a great father who took me out to dinner every month because I made the honor roll. He taught me how to read. When I was going to receive my First Holy Communion, I had a difficult passage to read during mass so he spent hours with me rehearsing. When he was in the hospital, he helped me with my math homework as I sat by his bedside. He made me feel smart. He made me feel special.
He had sharp stubble on his face that hurt when he kissed me. I would struggle against him even as my mother would tell me that I wouldn’t be able to kiss him later on. I wrote a poem about that, how I still dream of seeing him, animated and alive and how if he would move toward me in that impossible space of a dream, arms outstretched, motioning for his baby girl, I would run and melt into him and this time I wouldn’t fight back.