by Olivia Delahunty
Like many children, I used to have intrusive thoughts about my parents dying. About my dog dying. About my house burning down. About forgetting to wear pants to school with my Angelica Pickles t-shirt. I’m an anxious person by nature, so there have always been plenty of irrational fears running through my head. Thankfully, as I’ve grown I have become less ruled by my fears.
My biggest fear became my reality seven years ago when my Dad died suddenly. He was the smartest person I’ve ever known, so much so that it often irritated me. I dreaded asking him simple questions because I knew it was going to spin wildly into a lecture about ancient arrowheads, antique coins, or the Battle of Hastings. Every moment was a teaching opportunity for my Dad, and I personally hated every second of it. Please, just let me be dumb! I want that!
My Dad used to tell me that he loved me around the world and back again. When my Mom and I were both on our periods, he would lay out all kinds of chocolate on a literal silver platter and bring it to us while we watched reality shows. On hot days, my Dad would buy ice cream for the employees at the hardware store because they didn’t have air conditioning. He made people feel loved, no matter who they were. There are not enough words to give justice to the type of person my Dad was.
I found out my Dad had cancer when I was 19 years old. He acted as if it wasn't a big deal. He was going to beat it; there was no question. My head moved up and down with his breathing as it rested on his chest, and I could hear his heart beating. His strong arms and shoulders were wrapped around me.
Four months later, on Easter Sunday, my Dad held my hand and told me that he loved me before dying in our living room.
People told me that as time went on the weight of losing my Father would get easier. They were right. His death is no longer the first thing on my mind when I wake up, or the last thing I think about when I go to sleep. I have to believe in afterlife and that I will see my Dad again. But I also believe that some days it’s okay to think: this sucks and it is not fair.
I share these intimate details because I know I am not the only person who feels cheated. I thought when my Dad died that nobody could ever understand how I felt. That feeling is very isolating, but it also is untrue. I am one of billions who have bargained with God for five more minutes with someone they love. How many daughters throughout history have had to sit beside their Dad’s and watch them die? Touch the hands that held them for the last time? His hands were so big they covered my whole back when he rubbed it.
Grief is universal. It’s pulling your car over on the side of the road to scream and bang on the steering wheel, begging for him back. It's googling his name to read his obituary or to see if his face comes up in the images. It's calling his phone number, then hanging up after a few seconds. It's following a man around the grocery store because he had my Dad’s eyes.
When you are forced to face your biggest fear, the outcome is often liberating. In some ways, I feel like a more powerful person because of my Dad’s death. In most ways, I just want him back. When grief and fear swallow you whole, you do the only thing you can do: you survive it.