20 Years Later

August 8, 2000. A day that will be burned in my mind until I take my own last breath, because this was the day I watched my father take his. It was the fourth day of the fourth grade and I was 9 years old. Dad had been sick since before I was born. He was diabetic, there were a lot of infections, several organ failures, and it was time for him to rest. I grew up with my life revolving around days at dialysis and I always had a hospital bag next to my bedroom door with a change of clothes, a blanket, a couple books, and a pillow always ready to go in case we had to make a trip to the ER in the middle of the night. Although my mom and I had talked about this day coming for a long time, the day was here, and it was still awful.

It’s interesting what you remember about the worst days in your life. I don’t remember what I wore. I don’t remember what I ate. I don’t really remember what I did after we left the hospital. But, I do remember who was there. I do remember leaving the ICU room a few times and then being retrieved by my uncle. I do remember one of our ministers reciting Psalm 23 as we prayed as my dad was taken off the ventilator. I do remember the moment he died.

Leading up to this day, it’s that Psalm 23 that has been resounding in my head. I don’t know if it’s because of the anniversary or if it’s because of all the other chaos in the world, but all that keeps going through my head is “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me…” I try my best to be secular on this platform, because I want everyone to feel welcome on this site, but I feel like it is important for me to share this. I will fear no evil for thou art with me. Whoever that could be to you, it is helpful in our grief to find those who bring us comfort. To me that is sometimes found in my faith, but it is more often found in people I can see and touch. While my mom was still alive it was her. As an adult, it’s my husband and my friends. In our grief, it is important to find those that will walk next to us as we feel what we need to feel, not those that shame us for our feelings or do not let us fully express what is needed.

Feelings are those little buggers in our grief that come and get us when we least want them to, but we are kind of grateful when they do because they show us that we are human. When a death happened so long ago, people who have not experienced a loss so great will sometimes say, “Why does this day still bug you?” Well, this is something I have thought a lot about over the last few years. My sadness will always be there. August 8th will always have tough moments. December 5th will always have tough moments. Every Father’s Day when we all made crafts for our dads, every Daddy-Daughter dance for Girl Scouts and at every dance recital I did not get to do something with my dad. I had to watch all the other kids get so excited, and I would be sad. At my high school graduation, although I had one of the loudest cheers, I knew a voice was missing.

My sadness would then lead to anger. As a child, my anger mostly came from my dad missing out on all these “dad” events. As a teen, I had to come to the realization that because we were a single income household, we struggled and I was angry that I felt like I had to work every weekend to help my mom while my friends did not have to worry about helping to pay bills. As an adult, my anger has come from realizing how much I do not know about not only my dad but both of my parents. I get angry that my cousins got so much more time with them than I did, and I don’t think that’s fair. How come a person’s own child gets less time with them than their nieces and nephews. 20 years later, and I still have things that make me angry.

As a child I also had feelings like guilt, confusion, and even some relief to be quite honest. It was hard to be 9 and say you have no dad, but some part of me knew how much he had suffered his last 11 years on earth and it brought relief to know he was at rest. Even though I was hesitant at times, I would also choose to be happy. We are allowed to feel happy or content in our grief.

So what now? What do you do on a day like today? Well, I will take time to acknowledge and remember things with my dad. I will try to remember what his voice sounded like (loud and VERY Texan). I will spend time going through pictures and I will let myself get frustrated that there are no more than there were the last time I looked for pictures. I will accept the fact that there are not a lot of pictures of us together because he was the one behind the camera. Then I will laugh when I get to the picture of him and I in our matching green coats when I was in first grade and I will think of the funny time that winter that Mom, Dad, and I all grabbed the wrong green coat out of the closet and we laughed all the way to dinner that night.

I will drive to the cemetery and spend a few minutes with him there. I’ll post a picture of him on Instagram and I will be writing an ongoing letter to him throughout the day. Something that goes like this.

“Dear Dad,

How has it been this long? How has it been 20 years? Sometimes I feel like it has gone so fast and sometimes I feel like it has been an eternity.

Thank you for being the best Daddy you could be and for hanging onto life as long as you could. Thank you for all the funny memories, thank you for always pushing me in my swing, and thank you for the lessons.

I hope I can continue to learn more about who you were. I hope that I can make you proud.

You are incredibly loved and terribly missed. Thank you for your love. “

My husband and I are looking into something fun we can safely do because there is still a pandemic that we’re all trying to navigate on top of everything. I will spend the day probably a little reclusive and eat some of my favorite treats. I will let the day bring whatever emotions that my day needs me to have and I will listen to my grief. And then I will wake up tomorrow and do my normal Sunday activities like laundry, dishes, meal prepping, and watching The West Wing.

Grief is life. Grief is a part of us. Some of us have experienced it walking beside us for longer than others and some feel it bigger than others. Everyone’s grief looks different and that is ok. I hope wherever you are on your journey that you allow these days to come and you can allow yourself to feel what you need to feel.

Published by Bryna Talamantez

LMFT specializing in grief counseling for children, teens, adults and families.

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