It seems like there’s a lot of bad news these days. Destruction in Texas and the Carribean. The increasing threat of nuclear weapons. The government rolling back protections under Title IX and DACA — one of my handful of freshman advisees this year admitted to me that she is a DACA student, and she is scared stiff. She’s an amazing kid who had a tumultuous childhood first growing up in Guatemala with her grandparents, and then being sent to live with her parents in the US when she was in elementary school. She was a shining star at her US high school, and is now a freshman at a top liberal arts college who is studying to be a pediatrician. She loves working with young kids, and used to take care of toddlers at her church growing up, and is applying to work at the campus daycare where my son goes. THIS is the kind of truly amazing young woman our President wants to deport?! I am so angry on her behalf, and on the behalf of all of the kids who did nothing wrong, often everything right, and find themselves rejected and under threat by the only country they have ever known.
On top of all of that, I got some personal bad news yesterday morning: my father died. It was very sudden and unexpected; he’s had multiple sclerosis for almost 30 years but was healthy otherwise, and it seems that he just died in his sleep sometime Wednesday night. I’ll apparently never get answers about what really happened either (i.e., was it a heart attack or stroke or what?), since in cases like this they don’t do an autopsy unless there’s suspicion of foul play. So, I spent yesterday afternoon on the phone with everyone: the paramedics, the police, the funeral home, my father’s landlord, the county probate office, my entire family, and the few of my dad’s closest friends that I knew how to contact. Yesterday was a total blur, and today I have a bit of a breather before traveling home this weekend to start making arrangements for his funeral and figuring out what to do with all of the financial stuff and his physical belongings.
I have really complicated feelings about this loss. My father and I weren’t close. He abused drugs and alcohol when I was a child, sometimes in my presence, was verbally abusive, and made me feel unsafe on a number of occasions. I had occasionally wondered what his end of life would be like, what I would do if he wound up needing more intensive long-term care than the disability services he had used for decades. In a way, it’s a relief that it ended this way, although I feel guilty for feeling that way. But I also know that he would have wanted to die in his sleep rather than have a long, slow decline to death. And, I do have some good memories of him when I was young. I know that he was always very proud of me and my accomplishments, and that he was delighted by the birth of his grandson. He’s my father, and while over the years I’ve already done a lot of mourning for the father I would never have in my life, I’m finding that, surprisingly, there’s still some mourning I’m going to need to do for the father I did have.
For the moment, I’m just taking it from one day to the next, with the practical side of me figuring out what needs to be done while the emotional side of me wrestles with the aftermath (particularly at 2am last night, alas). Since my parents have been divorced for 25 years and I have no siblings, it’s clear that I’m the next of kin and it is my responsibility for making decisions and arrangements. My mom has already offered to help however she can, of course, but legally it’s my responsibility. I feel very unprepared, and wound up googling various iterations of “what to do when someone dies” and “checklist for when a parent dies” yesterday just to even get a sense of the scope of what happens next. And today, with nothing concrete to accomplish, I’m sitting in my office not focusing and writing a blog post while pretending I’m going to be able to keep up with the crushing workload of the start of the semester (oh, and with a major deadline for my research next week too).
Anyway, I do take solace in the fact that this I know that this is the way my father would have wanted to die, even though he would probably have preferred that his death be later in life (he was 68). I’m doing my best to respect his wishes and the needs of my family as I make arrangements for his funeral and what to do with his body. I’m feeling grateful that I have so many wonderful people jumping to support me, including my husband, mom, and cousin, a couple of my wonderful colleagues at work, and friends (even though I haven’t really told any of them yet — I’ve got a couple of rock-solid awesome friends who I know will have my back once I can muster up the energy to pick up the phone again). I’m also grateful for my snuggly, goofy toddler, who is still totally oblivious to grown-up sadness. Playing with him last night after daycare was the best medicine by far. I am lucky enough to have a village that will help me get through this difficult time.