Tuesday, April 16, 2013

My Father Died - Now What?

illustrated by; Diana Fogarty Daino
“To live and love wholly again, you must mourn. You will not heal unless you allow yourself to openly express your grief…
Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient and tolerant with yourself. And never forget that the death of a parent changes your life forever.”
~ Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

The morning of April 16, 2003, the phone ran, I glanced at the caller ID: “parents.”  In the last few weeks, I had grown skittish at the sound of my phone ringing, holding my breath, and releasing a sigh when it was anyone but my “parents.”  It wasn’t that I didn’t love my mother and father, wasn’t close or wanted to hear from them— it was fear.

Fear that every time my phone rang, it would be the moment that would change my life forever.

I took a deep breath and answered, momentarily thinking I should let it go to voicemail, I knew the moment I had been fearing was becoming a reality.

“Hi Arianna, your father is in the hospital and the doctors say he doesn’t have much time left.  They will do what they can to keep him alive until you can all get here, but they recommend you come as quickly as you can to say good-bye…”  The conversation went on for a few more minutes, I’m not really sure what I said or how I left it, but the next several hours felt like a slow-moving nightmare.

A few hours later, I found myself landing at JFK, being picked up by my brother, Fabio, and immediately rushed to NYU Medical Center.  Family and friends filled the waiting room, but there was no sound.  Silence filled the room. Through tears in my eyes, I looked at my mother, and had no words.

I went in to see my father.  (Sigh)  I made it!  I had gotten there in time.  Although he was unconscious and probably unaware of my presence, I was able to see him for the last time, to hold his hand, hug his warm body and say good-bye.

But how do you say good-bye to your own father?   How do you let go of the one man that has been your greatest supporter, most influential role model, and your deepest love?  You just stand there and hold him until… I didn’t want the story to end this way.

Whether it’s a sudden loss, you’ve had months to prepare, or it’s a natural progression of life, it doesn’t even matter whether your relationship was close or distant, nothing prepares you for the death of a parent.
After a death, you go through a range of emotions from one moment to the next, eventually one day turns to another, and before you know it, it’s been ten years.

So much has happened in the last ten years, moments that I couldn’t share with my dad.  Moments that I wished, more than ever, with the greatest pain in my heart, that he could have been there for:  to meet my husband, my wedding day, the purchase of a new home, the birth of my son, and every non-monumental moment in between.

The first year was the toughest, I called it the year of the firsts; first Father’s Day, his birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year and finally, the anniversary of his death.  The years that followed seemed to get easier, but there are still those occasions, when I least expect it and am unprepared, that leave me breathless and longing for him.

So often I have reached for the phone to call and ask my dad a question, to toss an idea around, to get his advice, or to share some happy news.  There have been times where I have felt his presence, smelled his cologne, or heard the sound of his voice.  When this happens, I stop, take a deep breath, close my eyes and relish the feeling that he is still with me.

And if I could, this is what I’d say to him today.
"Dear Papi, You taught me that I could do anything I set my mind to, to never give up, to be independent and perhaps against your intentions, a little too strong willed.  You wanted me to be loving, compassionate, patient, and giving. You supported my decisions and allowed me to make mistakes. You were my go-to, my advisor, counselor, problem solver, and biggest cheerleader. You were, before I met my husband, the smartest man I knew. You were a role model, hardworking, determined, dedicated, selfless, devoted, respected, and, perhaps against your intentions, a little too strong willed.  I will forever be a part of you, and you, an even bigger part of me.  I love and miss you deeply.  Love, Arianna."