One week before my expected due date, while my husband was off at his college reunion, I received a call from my mom that my dad was taken to the hospital for emergency surgery. The next night, I got the phone call that he had died in the operating room. It was the worst 24 hours of my life.
I was stuck in a state all alone with my 2-year-old daughter and my unborn child while my husband was driving through the night to get back to me so that he could drive me to my family. When he finally got there, we immediately started the long 10-hour drive home. It was unbearable. I didn't care if I had to give birth on the side of the road because I had to make sure that this all wasn't some terrible nightmare. I had to see for myself that it was really my dad they were talking about and not some stranger. I had to see for myself that he was really gone.
How could this be? I just saw him for Easter. We made plans for the Summer and the following year. How could the man who has always been there for me since day one just go and leave me behind when I needed him most?
On one hand, I was holding this beautiful newborn, and on the other, my heart and spirit were so broken.
I was fortunate enough to have a strong bond with my dad. He was not only there for me as a parent, but as a confidant. Our relationship evolved into a deep friendship with great respect for each other. He was always the first one I called with good or bad news; he taught me how to ride a bike, how to drive a car, and how to be a better person. He was my biggest cheerleader and best safety net. And it was such a blessing to watch him as a grandfather and to see how much he loved every minute he spent with my daughter.
Two weeks after he died, I gave birth to a baby boy. It was truly the most bittersweet moment of my life. On one hand, I was holding this beautiful newborn, and on the other, my heart and spirit were so broken. I was smiling through the tears and overwhelmed by sadness and happiness at the same time. Holding my son close to me, I felt warmth like I was hugging both my son and dad at the same time. The days, weeks, and months after bringing my son home were spent at the intersection of pure joy and despair. And I worried all the time that I wouldn't be able to give my son the love and attention he needed because I was so consumed with grief. Would he resent me? Did he feel neglected? My 2-year-old daughter served as my therapist, constantly reminding me that my dad wasn't gone because he was in my heart. She would wipe away my tears and tell me: "Don't be sad, Mama. It will be OK."
One day, I decided that I just couldn't be consumed by sadness and guilt over lost time, conversations that we would never have, and the milestones that would be missed. I told myself that I had to accept the fact that my dad was gone and to come out of the darkness and accept my new reality, even though I would have preferred to be in denial. I had to be strong not only for myself and my kids, but for my mom, whose brokenness was almost too much to bear. She went from being independent and courageous to bewildered and shattered. I didn't know how to begin to help her when I couldn't even help myself, and I knew that had to change.
Almost a year later, I still struggle with my feelings over my dad's death. I learned that I have to make my own peace with it and not feel like a bad parent because I have dark days. It's OK to feel vulnerable and sad in front of small children. It's OK to take some time for yourself to process your grief. Losing a parent is a very isolating process, and there's no wrong way to deal with it. A piece of my heart will always be broken, but my dad continues to live on not only in me and my memories, but in my kids, too.