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
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.
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.