Losing Someone I Didn’t Know I Loved

It’s been four months today since I lost my dad. Two more of these, and it’ll be a year.

I had a dream about him last night, the first one in a long time, the first one where I actually spoke to him.

He was tired, in a wheelchair, and we were in my church. I was telling him about how he was going to get better, about all the plans I had for the coming months. He could barely stay awake, but he told me he didn’t have the strength. I begged him to at least wait until my brother and sons came, so he could tell them, but he just shook his head. I looked at him, I embraced him, and with tears all over my face and tears on his, I gave him a kiss, and said “I love you so much.” I said it a few times. And then I told him it was OK to go, and he did. I walked into the sanctuary to meet my husband there, filled with grief and peace, recalling that I had felt the same way last time I said bye to him.

The dream opened up wounds that had been healing over the past few months. I woke this morning, crying. I got to hug my dad. I got to tell him I love him.

I never really got that in real life. I didn’t even know I love him.

Years of hurt turned to bitterness in our relationship. I couldn’t even give you details, because I really don’t remember any. The bitterness overcame my heart and my relationship with him. Even when I wanted to be loving to him, I found it nearly impossible. I simply didn’t know how to approach him.

He was diagnosed with cirrhosis in February of this year. I knew it was a natural consequence to an addiction he had (he took his last drink that month). But, still, I was hopeful that things would change, that we can work with what he had, that I can cook healthier meals for him, that he could grow stronger, and possibly have a liver transplant right around this time.

That’s why I never really worried about his worsening jaundice. I knew his condition. I just figured

img_0210

we would emphasize more whole foods and cut out all the stuff that his liver couldn’t process.

He went into the hospital on April 14. One week later, he was officially diagnosed with cancer. I knew he didn’t have long and was sad, especially for my boys, who loved their Abuelo, but I still had hope that we could have one last family barbecue, one last trip to the beach, that he could enjoy his final weeks and months in the presence of his family.

 

He took his final breath less than a week later, in the bed where I attempted to hug him the night before. I told him I loved him, I gave him a kiss, but his body was already unresponsive. I can only hope he knew how loved he was.

img_0200

The initial grief and peace I felt matched what I felt in the dream. Grief, because I had just said goodbye. Peace because he was in no more pain.

But the hardest thing I’ve had to learn in the following weeks was just how much I loved him. I never knew while he was here on this earth. I never showed him. 

And it sucks to realize how much you love your own father only after he dies.

Four months later, and life has a new normal. I still think about him. Sometimes, in the back of my mind, I think he’s in his room or in the garage. I still see him clearly in my mind. Most days are not hard. Most days are not like today, when my grief feels fresh. And yet, I don’t mind these days, because they validate my love for him, even if it is too late.

I write this for me. But I also write this for you — don’t wait until you lose someone to realize that you love them. Realize it now.

 

Advertisements

A Timely History Lesson

I had an exam the other day which warranted a lot of studying on my part. I mean, I have never in my life studied for any test like I did for this one. Mostly, I studied history.

I had never liked social studies or history too much during my school years. There were some years, I thought it was pretty OK, usually thanks to a good teacher. Most of the time, though, I struggled to remember what I had to learn for tests and I didn’t do too well. It was usually my worst subject every year.

So, I needed to study. And as I studied, I became enthralled by what I read and watched. I saw history in a new light — not as a series of facts I need to know for a test, but as a series of events that led to the world today. But, being enthralled doesn’t necessarily mean I enjoyed all that I had re-learned. There were some things that made me angry and disheartened — things that made me want to go back in time and ask people why on earth they thought that way.

In 1619, the first slaves from Africa set foot on American soil, and from that point, slavery stayed in the US for almost two and a half centuries. Between 1619 and today, slavery was a norm in the south and some other states for 61.8% of that time. Yet, that isn’t what made me angry. The anger that I felt stirring in my heart was from Christian slave-owners.

Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America actually said, “[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God…it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation…it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts.”

How could people actually believe that God was totally OK with it if you took ownership of someone else and treated them as less than human? Did these people actually believe in Jesus Christ? Do they not know He died for everybody? Whatever happened to loving your neighbor as yourself?

It hurts my soul to think about a time when slavery was prevalent. It hurts me to know that slaves were “people of color” — that, based on the color of their skin, their destiny in this life was decided by someone who bought them from someone else. It bothers me to my core to see that slave-owners actually treated slaves as less than people based on the amount of melanin in their skin.

And then came the Three-Fifths Compromise, the one time when slave-owners felt their slaves should be counted as people, and the non-slaveowners up north turned their cheek and insisted that they should not be part of the population. So, in came the compromise: every black slave will count for 3/5 of a white person.

Every black slave will be considered 60% human.

Somehow, for me, there’s a difference between being treated poorly by your owner and having the national government declare that you’re 40% less human than your owner — the one who doesn’t even believe in your humanity.

For anyone who knows American history, there was eventually a war. The southern states did not appreciate Abraham Lincoln’s stance on slavery and keeping it out of new territories and seceded from the union, which caused a civil war — the outcome of which was slaves being abolished.

I’d like to think we’ve come a long way since then. I’m not naive enough to say that racism doesn’t exist. But, I feel like pro-slavery activists then were victims of groupthink (the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity or individual responsibility) — deep down, they knew that their treatment of other people was wrong, but everybody else was doing it, so their judgment was clouded (this is my opinion — not stating this as a fact).

I know desegregation and the Civil Rights Movement didn’t come about until almost an entire century passed after slavery was abolished. I know that this is still recent in the light of things.

But most people, most people, aren’t so bold as to think that people of color are less than human. Right?!?

And then I saw the news about what happened on Saturday Night, an attack by white nationalists after a rally which started with the planned removal of the statue of the Confederate general from the Civil War — the one that was lost by confederates over 150 years ago.

I don’t understand it. I don’t understand why people want to still honor a man who lost a war for a very good reason. I don’t get why people who weren’t there for the war could get so worked up about it. I don’t know how people in the twenty-first century can actually think they are above another person simply because of their skin color. I don’t know how people can be so evil today. This is stuff I read about in my history books. This is all over and done with. We know better now.

Yet, sin remains in this world, unleashed, launching its attack on every one of us in different ways. It’s why I can’t let my first reaction — one of anger and even hatred towards the people who committed this violence — dictate my actions. It’s why I have to surrender the human emotions that I have right now, however righteous they feel. Christ is the only One who can cancel sin.

Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:44)

Lastly, I pray that no one is made to feel like 3/5 of a human. One hundred percent is made in the image of my God (Genesis 1:27). Jesus loves every single part of you; He died for your entire being (John 15:13).

The Sacrifice and Selflessness of Motherhood

I just read an article called “Motherhood Isn’t Sacrifice, It’s Selfishness.

Yeah…

It was enough to make me break my silence here and feel the insatiable need to write.

Here’s the definition for selfishness: “devoted to caring only for oneself, concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.” Yup, sounds like every mom I know.

I’m not saying that there aren’t any selfish moments in motherhood. Right now, for example, I am being selfish. I am ignoring what is going on with the boys and the house and my husband so I could sit down and write this response. I am being selfish in that I only care what is going on within this two-foot radius and purposely blocking out anything else for the sake of my own interest, which just so happens to be rebutting (with the occasional snark) the article I just read. Yes, I realize the irony.

But I digress.

The author refers to a phone call she had with her own mom about taking her sons, ages 7 and 9, on a family vacation and her excitement to watch them ride roller coasters and enjoy time as a family. She was upset by her mother pointing out that that’s not exactly a vacation for a mom – a mom needs her own time without her kids.

First, I want to point out that I have a 1- and a 4-year-old. One of my favorite memories from this spring is taking them to the carnival in town. I loved watching my older one play games and win prizes. I loved that we all loved the ferris wheel ride and got to enjoy some ice cream while we were there. But let me repeat, it is one of my favorite memories.

As it turns out, my experience with motherhood is not always as enjoyable as those two hours (which I’m pretty sure contained some meltdowns) on that one night this year. In fact, in the past four years of me being a mother, I can assure you that no memories, good or bad, actually define motherhood for me. Motherhood seems to rest in the mundane in this house, and while we make memories, spontaneous or planned, there’s always more to the picture than what our minds’ eye can remember.

But, perhaps, the part of the article that struck a chord with me was not her idea of a perfect family vacation in which there is nothing but joy and squeals of excitement from the kids and how it was actually a pleasure for her to be with her boys, after drudging at work for grueling hours every day of the year (let’s be clear: there is nothing wrong with this picture). Instead, it was her matter-of-fact statement that motherhood is not a job. To quote, “the language surrounding child rearing as a job surely derived from caregivers’ and homemakers’ efforts to be acknowledged as fulfilling an important role.” And, to add further insult to injury, she adds that while it is important for parents to do raise their kids, it brings in no income, so it cannot be considered a job.

I consider myself to be a stay-at-home mom, even though I work part time outside the house. I love my part-time job, but I adore my kids even more. Most often while at work, I am counting down the hours until I am able to kiss those faces again. But my job, in which I deal with dozens of kids every day, is nothing compared to the job of raising my two children.

I am certainly not one of those moms who has all of it figured out. I actually don’t feel like I haven even 10 percent of it figured out. My 1-year-old seems to know the times I set my alarm in the morning, because he seems to wake up a half hour before it, every single morning. I groggily start my day and serve the boys breakfast. Depending on how that goes, I am sometimes too overwhelmed by the sight of breakfast foods that I don’t even want to satiate my hunger any more. The rest of the morning is filled with different things. Sometimes, I’m a good mom and take my kids to the park or the pool or even just go on a walk around the neighborhood. Other times, I make the effort to be a good mom and put out an art project for them to do on a rainy morning and find that it only lasts for ten minutes, and that while I was cleaning up after them, the toddler ransacked every single basket of toys in the living room and now there is literally no space to walk, and it sets a bad tone for the rest of the day. And what feels like most days lately, I throw in the towel, take away some toys in an effort to lessen the inevitable mess, and throw on an episode of Curious George for the boys. Or three.

Perhaps it’s the fact that I have other things going on in life right now that take away my attention from the boys (such as studying for a huge exam coming up that I really don’t want to fail), or maybe it’s because I could honestly use a day where I wake up and only have to think about myself for a time, or maybe it’s because my toddler is the most strong-willed and feisty child I have ever known (and has been that way his entire life), but this mothering thing really feels like a job and not at all selfish. In fact, in part due to the fact that motherhood, ahem, surprised me a bit earlier than I was expecting (I have no qualms in admitting that we had planned to have our first son a bit later in life, because I wouldn’t change a thing about him today), but it sometimes actually feels like a sacrifice. And not just the lack of sleep or never getting to eat a meal while it’s hot kind of sacrifice, but also that I had to delay certain ambitions of mine and put aside dreams I had for my future – the same reasons for which people delay having children at all.

But here’s the thing: I adore my boys. It is a privilege to be their mother. And when my 4-year-old gives me a bear hug and sweet kiss as I say goodnight to him, it feels like the greatest reward. I mean, I get to call those two beautiful boys my own. And when I tuck them in at night and say “I love you” one last time for the day, I know that they are my reward for the job of raising them and they are worth any sacrifice.


Maybe the author of the article had a few good points. Maybe we shouldn’t focus on the hard work that comes with motherhood, but the joy that we reap from it. And, maybe, as some commenters pointed out, she didn’t mean “selfishness” in the way that the dictionary defined it. Hey, she’s entitled to her opinion, but if that’s not what she meant, then I’m going to call out The New York Times for publishing a writer who can’t use a thesaurus.