One year: A letter to my father

It’s been a year since you passed.

I don’t know whether I will ever get to talk to you again.  I spend a lot of time worrying that I won’t, which I know isn’t really a productive use of the years I have left (Serenity Prayer and all).

I relive what happened almost every day.  I still cry a lot.  Losing you was really a huge, permanent loss.  Even having a son didn’t make up for it, really.  I feel bad that you didn’t get to meet him.  What if I’d taken your advice–studied medicine, and married earlier?

My husband got his permanent green card.  He is well into his medical residency and will be a doctor soon.

Mom is as she always was.  She misses you a lot.  After you died she said you were the perfect husband for her.

We all miss you so much.  I feel like I live in my head these days, desperately pulling up old memories–of us catching fireflies, of you teaching me how to ride a bike, of us at the park exploring the creek, and at the playground, and in the swimming pool.  I run over and over them in my mind because I’m afraid, so afraid, that I might forget.

I always wanted to leave this city–it’s too hot here some of the year, and too cold the rest of the year, and in between there’s all the traffic and congestion and crime.  But that was when you were alive and well.  Now suddenly I am terrified to leave, because the places where we made memories together is all I have left of you.

There were so many things you wanted to do with me that we never got to do.  To visit your graduate schools, to visit the town in India where you grew up.  You wanted to take my daughter to the playground, and to have her hold your finger and walk like I used to do.  The loose ends hurt.  You would comfort me, and now you can’t.

We were always with you near the end, 24/7.  The day you died and they took you away, and you were finally alone, I was so scared that you would be frightened alone in the van, in the funeral home morgue.  It seems silly now.

All our lives, we almost never went a night without talking.  And now we haven’t talked in so long (your speech went before you died, so it’s been more than a year).  You used to say there was no place like home.  You never liked to stay away from home even a night. You haven’t been home in a year.  I miss you so badly.  Though I guess in a sense, you are home…we all must come from somewhere and we go back there, whether that “there” is some kind of afterlife or just that our atoms are recycled.

I know if there were a way you could come to me and Mom–if there were a way you could talk to me, that you would.  So that you haven’t done it, that you haven’t communicated from where you are (if anywhere at all) must mean it can’t be done.

You used to say you didn’t want to live past 80 and I didn’t understand.  And I was kind of hurt too–didn’t you want to be with me?  Now I do understand.  It’s not nice, old age–being dependent on others (not that I ever minded), feeling your health go.  And kids…they are great, but they are not peers–their well being is a responsibility…I didn’t understand until becoming a parent myself that you must have felt that burden.  I guess I can see why one would ultimately want to be free, or at least not mind being free.  So I guess I agree with you…I don’t want to live past 80 either; it’s a reasonable wish.  But I do wish you’d made it to 80.  Even one more year would have been so different–you’d have seen my son.   I feel so jealous of people my age who have grandparents, let alone parents.  My husband’s family will come and visit over Christmas…he has a dad and I don’t, and it isn’t fair…he has siblings too, and I don’t.

It has sucked not only to lose you but to lose one of the two keepers of my childhood–there are so many memories that now nobody in the universe remembers but me, that I will never really be able to convey to my kids or anyone else.

I don’t know how to end this letter.  I have gone on with my life, as best I know how.  People think I’m fine, but the reality is I don’t really have anyone to talk to about this–I guess Mom’s loss is bigger than mine.

I have gotten used to my empty e-mail inbox, Facebook without your “likes.”  I try not to think too much about how much you would have enjoyed the iPhones we got, or the family WhatsApp groups we made, after you passed.  Or how proud you’d be of me–after you died I got promoted, I lost weight, and I had a son.

But every cell of me misses you.   It comes out of nowhere and beats on me like a stick, and it is hard too because I can’t even think to myself that given time, this too shall pass…I know this grief and the missing will never quite go away.

I miss you.

I miss you.

I miss you.


A short update

I had a nightmare a few nights ago where I was reliving the worst moments of my dad’s cancer treatment.  And in the middle of it I woke up and the quote I mentioned previously came into my head–“I might never forget, but I need not always remember.”  I reminded myself that the middle of the night on a workday was not the time I needed to relive all that awfulness.  And miraculously, I was able to go back to sleep and slept for the rest of the night. Physically, I am feeling increasingly uncomfortable.  My nose is really stopped up and I don’t know if it’s allergies (due to spring), a slight cold, or if this is the onset of the horrible pregnancy congestion I had last time during the third trimester, and I need to start nose steroids.  I’m really trying to delay starting them as long as possible.  I don’t like the side effects and I don’t think you are supposed to use them for a long time–and I have 20 more weeks to go. At age 36 my husband is still a first-year medical resident and it’s been nine months now.  I really, really am beginning to resent that he is never home and I am stuck doing my job (which pays our bills, as his entire salary is going into childcare) on top of the job of 1.8 parents, while I have pregnancy fatigue.  I have no free time to care for myself, write, or do any of the things I loved.  There is no way out of this mess in the foreseeable future.  It’s not like he can change jobs or something.  I really just want to relax and focus on me and my job for a bit.

Difficult tasks

My dad had a life insurance policy.  He paid the premium, every pay period.  I’m sure he paid more over time than the policy was worth.  Actually it’s the same policy I have.  I remember when he filled out the “beneficiaries” form, him saying 90% would go to my mom and 10% to me.  We joked about it.  At the time his death was probably 20 years away.  I never thought this day would actually come. A few months ago, my mom and I received letters saying we were his beneficiaries.  And we had to fill out a form and mail it back to cash the policy in.  My mom did it, and got her check.  I just couldn’t.  let the envelope sit, and sit, and sit.  Finally I opened it.  The letter began “we are sorry for your loss”–and somehow, curiously, that little touch of humanity made me feel so much better.  I filled the form out today.  I still have to mail it. It all made me very sad.  I still remember like yesterday us joking about the 90% and 10%.  I don’t want any money.  I just want to see my dad with his grandbabies. Yesterday was the third anniversary of my great-uncle’s death.  He lived to be 93 and met his great grandchildren.  My family’s WhatsApp group is blowing up with tributes, etc.  I wonder what it would have been like to have my dad until he was 93, until I was older myself. My boss’s dad died a couple of weeks ago.  She’s my age.  It really brought back a lot of bad memories.  He had a nice death though; he never suffered with dementia or indignities or the loss of independence, and it was over in an instant.  After seeing my dad I didn’t think a “good” death was possible.  I wish he had one, but I guess death is as random and often as unfair as life is.

Canceling my dad’s cell phone

I finally pulled the plug and did it last weekend.

The Verizon customer service representative just kept giving me offers trying to get me to keep the line active, even after I’d explained that my father had passed and we simply did not need his phone line any more, for any reason. She kept telling me that she didn’t mean to be disrespectful, so it must be some tasteless, tacky company policy that the service reps just have to keep pushing.

It turned out her own stepfather had passed a few weeks ago. She seemed a lot older than me. I have a colleague in his sixties who said he had just come from visiting his parents in New York. I know I am hardly the only person in the world without a father, but sometimes I can’t help wondering why me.

And after seeing what I saw, I live with this dread that there is nothing standing between me and the same thing that befell my father. That I could get cancer tomorrow. It frightens me.

Dear Robin Williams

So yesterday I turned on the news, and saw that you had committed suicide.

These days, I dread waking up in the morning. My dad is dying a dog’s death from a brain tumor, my mom has cancer that could recur any time, and I have been living in this hell for almost two years now.   For the last three weeks, I have been sick myself and watched my parents suffer without being able to help.  The only end I can see to this horrible situation is that my father will die, which means that he is released from his suffering and I from watching him suffer–and then there will be years of grief, and the rest of my life without him.

Life is such a fragile thing, and so precious.

My parents aren’t wealthy and famous like you were, but my mom fights every day, for one more breath for my father. I too would give anything to bring his mind and health back for another few years. Anything.

I feel empathy and compassion for the depression and isolation you must have gone through. Things must be bad when you decide the pain of ending it all is worse than the pain of going on.  And people will say that severe depression is a sickness, it’s a chemical imbalance, etc., and I have no doubt that they are right.

But I have to admit that I alternate between feeling bad for you, and wishing that there were some process by which the life that healthy people abandon could be given to those who actually value it, and fight for it, and want to live.

Maybe you wished that too.


Cough cough

I am finally (three weeks since I got sick and three doses of antibiotic later) starting to feel a little better.

I feel tired these days. And I miss my old life. In the space of maybe 2.5 years I went from single with healthy working parents, to a married parent myself, with ill parents, and a spouse who isn’t around due to his job. It has been a difficult and rough transition that has turned my hair gray. I miss not having responsibility and obligations. I look wistfully at the trajectories of other people who had time to fall in love slowly and sweetly, savor marriage, have kids, have their kids know their grandparents, and then in their 50s had to deal with the things I am dealing with now.

I suppose there will always be people who have it better, and worse. All you can do is focus on yourself and on today.


This piece, “Aerograms,” just appeared in Contrary Magazine.

My parents left India permanently and for the next twenty or so years, their and my only connection to our family, until I was at least 14 or 15, was by aerogram. Phones were unreliable then and there was no Internet, and international travel was prohibitively expensive for us. E-mail was really life-changing.

Immigrants today must have a very different experience.

Oh and of course: Cancer cancer cancer. The above piece is about cancer. (Did I really think that I could write about anything else? That there was anything else in my life these days?)