Some time ago an old friend told me to read two books by Cheryl Strayed: Tiny Beautiful Things and Wild. She told me these books were helpful in dealing with her post-dad-dying emotions, which happened to her about one year before it happened to me. I started with Tiny Beautiful Things, a collection of advice columns written by Strayed under the pseudonym “Sugar“, but instead of reviewing the book I’ve written my own letter to Sugar with hopes that she might answer it.
On this day four years ago, my father died. On this day four years ago, I woke up in the bed I had woken up in for the past 22 years (minus the months spent at college) at 7 a.m. to the sound of the phone ringing, and before I was fully conscious I knew that life as I knew it was over.
I don’t know if I have an actual question for you to answer, except: How is this okay? In response to a letter from a young man who was trying to comfort his girlfriend whose mother passed away before they started dating, you said it would never be okay that her mom died. You said it would never be okay that her mom died or that your mom died, but that she and you were still okay in your lives. So how are you and that girl and my friend who recommended your book and my other friends whose moms died when they were young and me and everyone else who’s lost a parent OKAY, even though what happened to us is NOT OKAY? It’s like, feeling okay with my not okayness has become the norm, as opposed to just feeling okay. Does that make sense?
You say several times throughout your columns that you are who are you because your mom died when you were young. My life is the way it is now because my dad died when he did. I am who I am and I care about what I care about because he died on this day four years ago. I wish with everything I have that he were still here for me, for my mom, for my sister, enjoying his retirement and watching his granddaughter grow up, but does that mean I wish I were not who I am now? I had a plan to move to Chicago and look for a job in journalism after graduating college, but before I could even finish writing my résumé my dad got very sick, very fast, and then he died, and then I moved right back home after graduation and started working at my old summer job and then I got a job in Manhattan and subsequently moved to Manhattan and in between those jobs I started dating the guy I am going to marry some day (soon but not that soon) and then I got yet another job in Manhattan and moved to yet another apartment in Manhattan with this guy. Would I be with this person, this wonderful person whom I love so very much, if my dad were still alive? Would I live in Manhattan or would I have made the move to Chicago? Another horrible question that comes to mind is, what if it had been my mom? She got very sick about four years before my dad did, so what if it was her who didn’t survive? How would my dad and I be getting along without her? Would we be arguing the way we always did when I was younger, on account of us both being incredibly stubborn, or would we be practically strangers, alone in our separate, torturous grief? Four years later I am still struggling a great deal with my relationship with my mom now that my dad is gone, and I cannot even begin to imagine it the other way around.
The thing is, I miss my dad very much. I miss his booming laugh, his too-short sweatpants and gross bathrobe on Saturday mornings, his minutes-long voice mails, his super-slick dance moves, everything. Sometimes I cannot stand to be in a specific moment one second longer because he is not there to enjoy it with me. My dreams about him are as follows: He appears out of nowhere, I yell “Dad!”, I run to him, I hug him. He doesn’t say anything, just hugs me back, I wake up. These dreams make me feel equally devastated and grateful, as I like to think that it’s really him, his soul or his spirit or whatever you want to call it, reminding me that he is still there. Isn’t that silly? But it’s all I have left.
Enough of my babbling. I enjoyed your columns in Tiny Beautiful Things very much (I had never read an advice book before, unless you count Lean In as advice), and I have every intention of reading Wild and your novel Torch. Also, I am very sorry that your mom died. And I am very sorry that my dad died. I wish neither of them had died. But if they hadn’t, I wouldn’t be writing you this letter.