“Tara, I need to speak to both you girls in the living room.”
My heart sunk into the pit of my stomach. I knew.
I sat on the couch and embraced my mom and sister in my arms as they cried. Even at 14, I thought it was my job to be the strong one in the family. To not cry. To hold myself together and try to ignore the heart-rending reality that he was gone.
I returned to my bedroom slammed with emotions. Confusion, grief and numbness all visited at once. I buried my head into my pillows and my eyes leaked in pain. Anger flooded my heart and I screamed out at God. I punched my pillow over and over again.
Why God? Why haven’t you heard my prayers? I prayed EVERY SINGLE NIGHT! You were supposed to save him!
Pancreatic cancer is a real bitch. With him living 2 states away, I never witnessed his pain, but I could hear it in his voice when he called. One of our last conversations ended with him stating he was going to be fine. I almost asked him to be honest because deep down I knew, but instead I let it go and hung up the phone. There are days I would give anything to hear his voice just one more time.
The day before the funeral, I told my family I didn’t want to attend. I was being selfish. I wanted to protect myself because I was afraid. Afraid that people would realize I wasn’t the strong, young woman I was pretending to be. That they would look into my eyes and see the truth–a teenager broken, lost and in pain. The reality of it all scared me. To accept he was gone and never coming back. To accept I would never see his bearded face with his signature yellow sunglasses, have our Hootie & the Blowfish jam sessions or debate over Madonna’s greatness. More than that, I would never again hear him tell me that he loved me and accepted me as his daughter even though by blood, I wasn’t. His love was always unconditional, and I admired that about him.
There are many things I remember about the funeral: the adults arguing, the hurtful words that were spoken, the words that were left unspoken, the Indian pastor yelling chants as she walked up the isle. But it’s the flowers I chose to hold on to the most. The red roses, pink carnations, and assorted floral arrangements that hugged the walls of the funeral home room–they were everywhere.
It was though in the middle of all the chaos, the anger, the ugliness, there was also beauty. In a room that was so focused on death, the flowers offered life. It was comforting. It became my safe space. In the moments I felt like I was losing control, I fixed my gaze upon the flowers, and they saved me. They saved me from my vulnerabilities. From breaking down and surrendering to the pain and grief I felt that cold, February day.
After 15 years, I write these words to give my emotions permission to come out of hiding for the first time. I’m tired of harboring the guilt. The guilt of not welcoming grief in a time in my life where I deserved to cry. Where it was okay to be angry and confused. Where it was okay to not pretend to be so damn strong even when the world was watching.
Losing someone hurts. It hurts like hell. Let go. Grieve. Mourn. Be human. You’ll love yourself more for it.