And just like that, it’s been three years.
On January 15, 2016, I wrote a blog post called “Predestination is bullshit, but this feels real.” I apparently didn’t share that one during my lead-up to the anniversary to Dad’s death. I don’t know why I didn’t post it. Was it intentional? Did I accidentally skip it, since I had posts on the 14th and 16th too? Maybe one of these days I’ll share it, but for now, I’ll share an excerpt:
For years and years and years—since before I started high school, for sure—I knew that I wanted to leave here. I always said I’d go to school out of state, or at the very least, a few hours away. I wanted to live in a big city…or really anywhere but here. So how did I end up here? Why did I end up here?
The whole post is about how I’d lived my whole life in one place, wanting to leave. I’d had plenty of opportunities. I’d gotten into dream schools out of state with generous scholarship offers for both undergrad and grad school. Yet there I was, in the same place I was born and raised in, for what felt like no reason. As I daydreamed about adventures and lost opportunities, I felt some regret. I felt happy with my education and the path that it had led me down, but why did it have to be here? It felt purposeless until January 2016.
Dad was dying. He’d been diagnosed nearly 5 years ago, but it didn’t seem like a big deal at the time somehow. I’d seen loved ones diagnosed with cancer. I’d seen them survive it and I’d seen them die from it. Somehow I assumed Dad would be in the former category. Looking back, I can see his optimism, his protectiveness, and his denial, all which played into my underestimating the situation.
Anyway, in January 2016, I had a moment of clarity and thankfulness that I’d never left my hometown. My hometown was where Dad was living, where Dad was dying. At the end, I saw him every day. I came into his house after work, and whoever was sitting beside him always got up and motioned for me to take the spot nearest to him. I held his hand. I talked to him. He responded to me less and less. I fixed his cannula. He was grateful and heartbroken that I had to see him like that. I loved him. I love him.
The point of this now-teary reflection is to marvel at how dramatically my life has changed since that moment. I never told Dad I’d applied for the Peace Corps, which I regret, but about six months after I sat beside him listening to his breathing, I was on a plane to Nicaragua. That was the beginning of a whole new chapter of my life. 2016 is a year divided into Before and After.
It’s crazy, that I haven’t lived in my home country since the year that he died. So much has happened both in the world and in my life since I was last able to talk to him. I think about the nights that I sat next to him, wordlessly watching the news, occasionally commenting on the craziness of the presidential campaigns. I think about my upcoming wedding and though it still feels unfair that he can’t physically be there, I’m more angry that he didn’t get to even meet Thomas.
It’s hard to put into words how I’m feeling. On one hand, my life has changed so much in the last three years that I want Dad to come see me as I am now, but on the other hand, I feel like if he were to come back to see me for 5 minutes, he wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised with where I’ve landed. Ever since we were little, he’s had big visions of the things we’d do, see, and accomplish. I don’t feel pressure to live up to any of that, but I do wish I could have him here just a little longer. There are so many things I want him to see. I can close my eyes and imagine him saying, “Be careful,” just like he always did whenever I left his house.
Be careful. Dad believed that we were capable and strong and would do great things, but he also worried about us, and I worried about him. I worried about telling him that I was leaving to serve in Peace Corps Nicaragua. I worried about him worrying about me. I didn’t want him to worry about me in his final days; I wanted him to feel like everyone around him was safe, even if he wasn’t. By the time I finally convinced myself to tell him my plans, he was no longer able to have conversations. His health declined so rapidly in those last few weeks. I kept the secret.
So much has happened. In 2018 alone, I got evacuated from Nicaragua because of civil unrest, got engaged, and moved to China. It’s hard to imagine how much life can happen in such a short time, and how the last few years seem both like the shortest and longest of my life. I wish I could talk to Dad about it, show him pictures, and hug him on my way out the door. I wish he was back in Missouri missing me, wishing I’d visit more.
Three years. An absolutely incredible, terrifying, unimaginable, bittersweet three years.
I don’t know what else to say. These past three years have changed my life. I’m so grateful that I was physically present with him, especially in that last year, but looking back, it almost feels like a different lifetime.
Miss you, Dad. I love you.