Wednesday, March 23, 2011

8 years later: RIP Dad

Today marks the 8-year anniversary of the death of my father. I was 13 when it happened, and I'm still in a lot of pain and filled with a lot of anger over the circumstances surrounding his death. It's a long story, a troublesome one, but I'm here to tell it.
My father died of Hodgins Lymphoma brought on by exposure to Agent Orange Poisoning. To say that the realization that Agent Orange was behind it was one of the formative events of my life would be an understatement.
I didn't know all the politics surrounding it. I was just a teenager who wanted my dad to get better. Towards the end of his life, his health deteriorated to the point where hospitalization was necessary. Until the very end, he was a fighter, joking with the nurses, complaining about the crap hospital food, eagerly awaiting us sneaking in Wendy's for him. But it wasn't enough to fight back the reality that death was coming. He knew it, and I knew it, even though I didn't show it. He told me that I would have to take care of my mother after he was gone. He trusted me implicitly to do what was best for the family, but I was overwhelmed.
It was a dark day for us when he did die. The most vivid memory of it is walking down the hall of the hospital with my mother and my sister. We stopped in his room, and he wasn't breathing. There was a sickly yellow tint to his skin, and before it could sink in, I could hear my mother scream, "Oh my God, he's dead!"
Before I even knew what I was doing, before I even knew what I was thinking, I ran up to him and kissed him on the forehead, and just said "Goodbye. I love you."
After that, it's all kind of a blur. I spent the next few weeks alone, and to be honest, a good portion of my time was spent contemplating suicide. I even attempted, and botched, a few times. It was in a deep black spot of devastation that I did this, and I am so grateful I did not ever succeed or sustain major injury. The psychological damage, while leaving no physical scars, was even greater. I became withdrawn, unhappy, and overall, I felt like I had lost the only one I could relate to. I genuinely believe, without a shadow of doubt, that I inherited my autism from my father. He, like me, was in the habit of being boisterous, eccentric, curious, and mentally sharp, although he had difficulty expressing himself and laboured with the difficulties of undiagnosed dyslexia.
It's been 8 years since all that. I was told the pain would get less and less. But truthfully, it hasn't. I still unjustly lost my father, and the searing sadness was replaced by a more dull ache, which is strong particularly on days like this.
I wish I could say something more eloquent, or talk about being sprung forth into action to make sure an incident like Agent Orange never happens again in history. There are some elements to that in my personal narrative about my father's death, little seeds planted in adult me now that I have the strength and resolve I was lacking when I was 13. But above all else, I still remain a grieving daughter, and I believe I always will be. There's no shame in that, I think. It's a part of me that doesn't vanish as I age, it merely evolves and undergoes some changes.
I don't believe in saying goodbye to my dad in this post. I had my goodbyes. But I would like to say thank you to him, if he could hear me. I'm proud of the person I turned out to be, and he helped create that. He wasn't a perfect man, but the deep love I feel for him negates any flaws which plagued his personality, later in life, owing to the struggles of dying before his time and post-traumatic stress disorder. I just hope he would love me now as much as he loved 13 year old me, even though I have changed so much.

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