When you live 6,000 miles and 9 time zones from your family, every missed phone call from them is packed with blessings and panic. Blessings because someone on the other side of the earth thought of you, panic because what if something bad happened.
Last Saturday morning, as I was getting ready to speak in an event I was organizing, I turned on my phone to send a lovely inspirational quote to the other speakers, and thus remind them where they needed to be in 2 hours. Hehee.
The moment the phone was back on the grid, 5 missed calls from far away rolled in. Unless it is my birthday, 5 missed calls from home are never a good sign, even on Christmas. And it was not my birthday on Saturday. No.
My Dad had died earlier that morning.
With that one sentence, my world got bigger, lonelier, more frightening.
Not because death is scary. “We are born, we live, and when our time comes, we die,” I explained to my kids, just as I have heard Charlotte explain to Wilbur about two hundred times. And not because it was unexpected. Dad had been sick for a bit.
As a matter of fact, the moment when I found out about his diagnosis was a part of my speech that morning:
“It was a Sunday afternoon in a gas station on the west side, and my sister called to let me know that our Dad had been diagnosed with a terminal illness.
All I could think of on that hot afternoon in that tired gas station was, “Who’s going to like me when he’s gone?”
Don’t get me wrong, I am a much-loved person – I have a big family, I have friends, I have a loving husband. But days are not brothers and I am not always likable. But my Dad likes[d] me on good days, and bad.”
It was the greatest gift he gave me – to feel likable even at my worst, and with it, he made the entire world lovable.
As I delivered these words a few hours later to an audience, I felt how grief had already dug deep into my heart, taken residence at the center of it; penetrated every hair, tissue, and cell. There is no place to hide from it. I have to live it, accept it, hang out with it like with a sad drunken dude in a bar 10 minutes before closing while you wait for the cab to show up – harmless, yet you would much rather move on.
I felt it was too early to lose him. I felt I was not ready for this. I felt I should have had one more day with him. And yet, it is never the right time for any Dad to die. No one is ever ready to lose a parent. And no matter how many days I had had with him, it would not have been enough.
What I hear about grief is that it will never go away, but it will become a part of you. Even with that part, it will be possible to enjoy the beauty of the summer skies, to embrace the winds on your cheeks, to delight in the beating wings of birds in flight.
But today is not that day. Today the skies are dark, and there is only one sound I can hear – the sound of my heart breaking.