In my Postcards from Grief series, I am inviting friends who have lost a loved one to share a little about their grief process if they’d like. (My first postcard is here.) I’m doing this because I’ve noticed a silence and a stigma around grief that keeps everyone clueless about it. My hope is to shed some light on the process, so that friends and readers will be better equipped to help a friend — or themselves — when the time comes. Because it will come.
Today I’m very honored to bring a guest post from Jennifer, whose work in political science — as you’ll learn in the post — takes her all over the world. Jennifer lost her father earlier this year. Jen: thank you, and I am so sorry for the loss of your beloved dad.
My dad died when I was somewhere in the air between Santiago, Chile, and Chicago. I was living in Córdoba, Argentina at the time. My brother-in-law called me late one Thursday evening to say that Dad had been rushed to the emergency room just a few hours earlier. By late Friday afternoon I was drinking a Cristal by Gate 17 in Arturo Merino Benítez Airport, one leg into my overnight trip home, wondering how I was ever going to afford the plane ticket I had just bought.
You see, my dad had been in and out of the hospital regularly, struggling – always admirably – against the many ailments that he had acquired along with the liver that had extended his life for eight years. Trips to the hospital had become a regular occurrence over that time – my siblings, their partners, my mom, and I would huddle around my dad’s hospital bed to play a board game, watch Jeopardy!, or collectively moan about the Cubs. And, in effect, when I spoke to my mom upon landing in Santiago that afternoon, my dad appeared to be on the mend from this particular bout with illness. At the time, therefore, my last-minute purchase seemed hasty, and so the beer quelled my concerns, both for my father and for my finances.
As a graduate student who travels for research and spends as much of the year outside of the United States as within it, I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me to learn that my dad had passed away while I was in transit. I lost both of my grandmothers when I was in Rio de Janeiro for a language study abroad. My mom survived an entire bout of chemo while I was learning about Cuban film and gender studies at the Universidad de Chile. Major events had occurred to my immediate family while I was thousands of miles away.
Now that I’m back in Chicago once again, I find myself working to keep my dad’s death at a distance, just so I can continue to do all the things that we, as humans, must do to continue living.
But I know this approach to death is unsustainable. And so these days dealing with my sadness means, quite simply, accepting what has happened. Accepting that my dad is gone. Accepting that I wasn’t here to say goodbye and to tell him that I loved him. Accepting that he knew I loved him anyway.