There are a few moments in my life that I can't forget: the cold bleachers at my sister's outdoor graduation at University of Michigan; the sweat-through-my-pants heat at the Taj Mahal; the downpour during move-out day at Iona; the 2,000 ft. elevation to Whistler Mountain; the second I saw my dad's heart stop.
People cope with death in various ways, and in the past two weeks, I've seen them all. But there's a difference between dealing with a looming death and one that is unexpected.
My dad wasn't diagnosed with a terminal illness, he wasn't in an accident, he wasn't old. My 53-year-old dad and I shopped for sweaters at Uniqlo and ate pizza three hours before I called 911 on 97th and Amsterdam.
And this is why accepting that my dad isn't alive is difficult. I still think that if I close my eyes hard enough, if I just squeeze reality out for long enough, this nightmare will remove itself and I will be back to binge-watching Parks and Rec with Papa.
People say to be strong, to celebrate Papa's life, to live how he would have wanted me to live, but I keep thinking about holding his hand in the Emergency Room and realizing that it wasn't holding mine. I was too desperate to let go.
In an instant, I went from mourning the loss of love to mourning the loss of life. I yelled at doctors and nurses, demanding them to try something else because my dad is only 53, no, he's never had a heart attack before, yes, I was there, yes, he was driving, no, we're okay, please try something else, please don't stop trying, why did you stop, what do you mean the CPR isn't working, please do something else.
I stared at my dad's hand, desperate to memorize his fingers. I made promises to God if only He would make these fingers move. They didn't. I felt the ground give way. I've been falling since.
And since then, I've been coping by keeping myself awake, forcing myself to read, gluing my eyes to a screen and designing a layout for a newspaper I had almost forsaken. I try to write about the different strains of sadness, anger, guilt, emptiness, and heartbreak. I exhaust my brain until it has no choice but to sleep.
This doesn't always work.
We have received a lot of love and support, Papa, so don't worry if you think we're alone. Your humorous personality and kind heart have left us with excellent company. But I still go to your closet and smell your shirts. Your cologne makes me think of you coming home from work and putting away your lunch bag. Your lunch bag sits in the closet now. I avoid looking at it.
Papa, since you saw last me, I had made so many plans. I finally felt in control of life. I've been proven wrong. Some stars or fate or destiny dealt us the worst cards and I'd like to set that deck on fire.
I've cancelled tickets, buses, conferences, flights, vacations, giving each the same reason: "My father passed away, so I can't attend." Each time I hear myself saying those words, I become closer to a reality I'm unwilling to accept.
Do you know that I still imagine you cooking eggs, asking me to pass the pepper? Do you know how much I miss the sight of you checking the mail, reading glasses perched on the edge of your nose? Do you know how tired I am of filling out forms and writing your name next to the word "deceased"? Do you know that I hate when people talk about you in the past tense? Do you know how many hugs I've gotten in the past two weeks? Do you know that none of them feel like yours?
I am coping by trying not to remember how you would ask me to recommend something on the menu. I try not to imagine you getting ready in the mornings with your ironed shirt and matching turban. I try to forget how easily we joked around. I pretend you wouldn't have found it amusing that the funeral director reminded me of April Ludgate.
None of this works either.
So, if you're wondering when I miss you the most, Papa, I can narrow it down to the time between when I wake up in the morning until right before I fall asleep.