My dad is dead. My dad is dead. My dad is dead. My dad is dead. My dad is dead.

For the first several days, shuffling about in a daze, these words entered my mind repeatedly and I couldn’t comprehend the meaning. My dad died on January 12th, 2021 of complications from COVID after spending three weeks in a coma in ICU on life support. Today would have been his 63rd birthday. I live in Northern Illinois and he lived in Southern Louisiana. The last time I saw him not in a coma was shortly after Thanksgiving when he and my bonus mom were up for a visit. I hugged him and told him I’d see him in a month because I had planned to drive down for Christmas. I flew down a few days after he went into the hospital (December 29th) because I wanted to be there when he woke up and to support my brother and other mother. After weeks of ups and downs and the reality of multiple organ failure and him not waking up, they told us that if he did wake up, he would be in a permanent vegetative state. Permanent vegetative state. Those words echoed in my mind for several days as well. We made the horrific decision to remove life support and said goodbye.

I never imagined it could be as hard as it was. I guess I always just thought that we’re built for this because everyone dies and that I would just magically be reasonably ok. I also considered myself to be a pretty spiritual and death positive (accepting and not fearful, not “yay death, let’s do it right now!”) person. I was not prepared for the pain. I had no idea it was even possible to hurt that much.

I’m 41 and I can tell you it’s been quite some years since I was consciously concerned about what my parents thought about the direction of my life. But suddenly, I didn’t know who I was or what I was supposed to be doing. Despite having two amazing children and a lot of other very important people in my life, I didn’t know how I was supposed to go on. If my dad is gone, I am not his daughter anymore? That part of my identity, and at first, my entire identity felt shattered. I just wanted the days to be over. It felt like I would always feel that way and as much as it hurt, I thought that if I started to feel better, I was losing him more somehow. Every morning, I woke up and told God how angry I was. How I very strongly disagreed with the outcome of the situation. My belief that everything happens the way that it is supposed to was burned to ash.

The one thing I heard that was helpful, the ONLY thing, was that it would help me to understand more humans. My best friend, Kate, said that. She’s very smart. She also lost her dad suddenly a few years ago. I couldn’t hear much at the time and I didn’t know what that meant but I hoped that at least it would help me help other people in some way. Slowly, slowly I have begun to heal. With a bit of time and help from my friends, I realized that I was having a very necessary human experience. It didn’t matter what I believed about what happens after we die. I wanted my dad physically here. Alive and well. But he isn’t. And everyone dies. Everyone dies.

Four months later, I still really miss my dad. I’m very sad that I will never see him again. But I feel his absence less and his presence more. Time gets a bit more bendy. I had to feel that pain. I had to allow myself to feel the pain and talk about it with people I trusted. I had to say the things that sounded crazy in my head out loud to other people who would just love me and say “I know”. Every day, I am working to make peace not only with the loss of my father, but the inevitable loss of others. For me, that includes yoga and meditation and trying to find ways to help other people navigate this thing.

Death may be inevitable but it is absolutely, totally and completely heartbreaking and earth shattering to lose someone you love.

Happy Birthday, Dad.

Love, Nan