There is probably nothing that changes your life more than the death of a loved one. I lost my father to brain cancer four months ago.
Dad was always known and loved for his incredible sense of humor. Even when I was a little girl, he would make me laugh so much I would nearly cry. His humor had the ability to reduce the most serious situation to just a joke. I remember always believing that no one could be upset around Dad for too long. He was my rock, my confidant, and my best friend. And if I’m honest, he was a best friend to many. He had this innate ability to connect with anyone and everyone. Whether it was a taxi driver, a friend, a guard in my school, a family member—he made them feel so special and loved that they all saw a best friend in him. He worked passionately, lived fearlessly, and loved wholeheartedly. He always played the good cop and was everything you would want in a parent.
It is hard to imagine life without someone like that. Every time I think of the day in the ICU when his heart stopped and mine continued to beat, I feel so engulfed by pain that it could have happened a second ago. While the week after that moment is a blur, I remember convincing myself that I had to “keep it together” for the sake of my mom and my sister. I cried only when alone, went back to New York for my internship right after, and did all the things that made them believe me when I said, “I got this.”
By internalizing everything that I was feeling, I was helping no one and was definitely not helping myself.
Though I’ve never been one to ask for help, I decided to see a grief counselor. It was then that I realized I had gotten it all wrong. By internalizing everything that I was feeling, I was helping no one and was definitely not helping myself. Grief, I have learned, is not something we can shun or pass through. It is something that is a part of us and longs to be embraced. Ironically, I was able to feel genuinely happy for the first time only after I leaned in to my grief.
Grief numbs your body, breaks your heart, and drains your veins, but grief also is just another form of love. Thinking about my dad sometimes overwhelms me with agony because he is not around anymore, but thinking about him also fills me with immense joy. I think about the hundreds of things he taught me, and some of the happiest moments of my life that we shared, and it makes me feel incredibly grateful. Even in the most difficult moments, I’m aware that I’ve been extremely lucky.
We spend so much time talking about things that don't matter and little about things that really do.
The reason grief is very isolating is because talking about death in our society is off-limits. Death is inevitable and touches each one of us, but talking about it is a complete taboo. Something similar is felt toward talking about the dead. Therefore, even the people who care about us the most seldom dare to touch the forbidden topic. We spend so much time talking about things that don't matter and little about things that really do. Nothing makes me happier than someone asking me about my dad and what he was like. When you lose someone, the last thing you want is to lose memories of him too. And the last thing that person would want is for his death to define his whole life. Keep your loved ones alive in you conversations, your memories, the way you live because end of life in no way translates to end of relationship.
I spent a lot of time trying to find answers that didn’t exist. Why us? Why him and not me? Thinking of these questions is inevitable and the answers unfathomable. I found no solace in religion, spirituality, or the things people said. It was only when I tried to stop making sense of his loss and start making sense of his life that I began to get out of the mess I had created in my head.
If I could live a life half as whole as his and celebrate every moment just the way he would want me to, I would consider myself lucky.
I remember talking about my dad to a friend—how he was an incredible doctor, always put his family first, was loved by his friends, and celebrated the beauty of every single day despite its imperfections. She looked at me and said, “You know, he may have lived a short life. But he lived a whole life.”
If I could live a life half as whole as his and celebrate every moment just the way he would want me to, I would consider myself lucky. Nothing in this world can bring him back, nothing can ever replace his presence, and nothing can ever explain our loss. But acknowledging his lingering presence in my life and living a happy, fearless life just like his is my Option B and the greatest way to honor him. I’m eternally grateful for the past twenty-one years and for every day I live knowing that I’ve been blessed with the greatest father a girl could ask for.
For all those of you yearning for your loved one, nothing can justify your suffering, and there is no end of grief, but I hope you can see the beauty in grief at the time. We grieve because we love. How lucky we are to have experienced that love.