learning to let go: when the strongest person you know leaves your life
When you were younger, they were the strongest person you knew. They were bigger and braver and smarter than everyone else. Ever since you can remember, they protected you from the outside world. Their words of wisdom, discipline and love all created a shield from pain, disappointment and fear. They held your hand through scraped knees, broken hearts, and sleepless nights. They slept next to you and made you hot chocolate on the nights you were too sick to sleep on your own. They read you stories that started with ‘once upon a time’ and ended with ‘happily ever after.’ They drove you to your dance recitals, maths tutorials and friends’ places without blinking an eye. When you bought your first bike, they were your training wheels. Thanks to them, you learnt how to rollerblade, play tennis and swim, all in one summer. They encouraged you to read and explore the unknown.
When you started your first job as a checkout chick at your local grocery store, they made sure they always stood in your line, even if it meant they had to wait a little longer. Of course at the time, you rolled your eyes and mumbled something under your breath hoping they’d stand in the express line, because after all, they’re just buying milk and bread for breakfast. They taught you how to drive, and despite all the hard-braking, wrong turns and door slamming, they didn’t give up on you. They made you laugh until you cried, and said you were their number one.
Today, he’s lying in bed, eyes shut, wearing an oxygen mask. Arms by his side, needles stuck in him like a voodoo doll. His words become muffled when he tries to speak; every breath is heavy and strained. He doesn’t want to tell you a joke, or drink hot chocolate with you. Instead, you spoon-feed him ice chips to help wet his throat. You help him sit up on the hospital bed and realise the muscles that once picked you up and held you tight are no longer visible, nor there. Instead, all you can feel are bones. The youthfulness you saw in him once, even a few months ago, has now disappeared. All you now see is pain, stress, worry and sadness.
Tomorrow, you hope, is a better day. He might be able to breathe on his own, get out of bed and go for a walk with you. He might tell you a story about that time when he was young and had spent a whole school day fishing, only to come home at sunset to find the whole neighbourhood at his house, fearing the worst. He might share his jelly with you, and tell you banana is his favourite flavour. You don’t like jelly, but you have some anyway because you fear this may be your last chance to share anything together. You turn on the SBS news, because that’s what’s always been done at home at 6:30 every night for as long as you can remember. You both look up at the TV hoisted above the bed, taking in the news about bush fires, Lance Armstrong’s doping scandal and that cute newborn elephant at the zoo. You flick the channel and watch The Australian Open. You remember when you were younger, you’d play tennis together, but he was just a bit too competitive and bit too good. Maybe he’ll get better soon and you can show him how much of a stronger serve you have now.
You both sit there in silence for a while but you don’t mind. He soon gets tired and you watch him drift off to sleep. You realise this is the first time you’ve really looked at him. You notice the grey hairs – there’s a lot more now than you remember teasing him about a few years ago. You notice the wrinkles on his forehead, probably from all the frowning he did when you stressed him out during those teenage years. You notice the lines around his mouth and little brown spots around his eyes, a sign that he’s approaching his 60th birthday.
Days go by and he zones in and out of consciousness, completely oblivious to your touch, smell and voice. You gently nudge his shoulders, rub his hands to show your presence and tell him about your day, but he doesn’t respond. His hands are still warm and you can see how each breath is a struggle. There’s now even more bruises and needles and bandages on his fragile body than you remember seeing 24 hours ago. You hear grouped footsteps and medical jargon, followed by an army of doctors. They tell you that sometimes doing nothing to treat a problem is better than doing something. You don’t hear much else after that, just something about nearing the end… informing family… saying goodbye… last minute preparations. You try to plead with the doctors, and with God, because you refuse to believe death is the only option.
You wonder about your last conversation together, struggling to remember where it took place or what it was about. You dig deep into your memory in the hope of holding onto the last real memory you have of this great, great man. You want to remember him as the man that was incredibly smart and brave; that had plenty of dad jokes up his sleeves; that said you, as his first born, was his right arm in life; that worked hard for his family; that cooked up a storm at any opportunity; that stayed up until midnight to help you cram for your exams in college; that always said you’re destined for great things; that always put you in your place when you lost focus and motivation; that was always there, no matter what, when you needed him. You realise there will never be anyone like him in your life who can even come remotely close to taking his place. Though this brings up millions of emotions all at once, you feel incredibly privileged and honoured to have a father who was always so present, so available, so giving and so loving in your life. You hold his hand tight for the very last time, and finally let him drift off to a better place.
By Shamima Afroz