I AM NOT INVINCIBLE
WORDS & IMAGE: SKY DOYLE '17
On May 16, 2014, my roommate’s dad flew all the way from Calabasas, California, to Wesleyan to help her move out of her dorm. Once he was gone, she started telling me about her occasional crippling, irrational fear that her dad is going to die or her mom or her brother or even her dog while she is away at college. This was preposterous to me. I simply believed that I, and everyone close to me, was invincible.
On May 18, 2014, my dad died.
My dad died unexpectedly. I wish there was something I could say that could convey to you more accurately just how inconceivably unexpected my dad’s death was, but there isn’t. My words just don't cut it. All I can say is I never believed it could happen. This wasn’t just something I didn’t anticipate, it was something I couldn’t fathom. But it happened, and now that grief makes up who I am.
The worst part of the grieving process comes about 6 months in, when most of the world around you has already moved on, but you haven’t even begun. When my dad died, it was overwhelming knowing how much support I had, based on all the phone calls, text messages, and even the Facebook comments that I received, but I didn't know how to appreciate them then. It was nice getting that text from that girl I went to middle school with, or that guy in my film class, but I didn't want to talk to them. I wanted to curl up in a ball and maybe exchange a few words with my best friend for seven days. But as my appetite for isolation faded, so did the calls and messages, and it just felt like everyone had stopped caring.
I wanted to mope, but I don’t want to mope anymore. That doesn’t mean that there won't be times when all I am capable of doing is moping, but I’m ready to talk about my dad. I’m ready to stop only defining him as dead. You don’t need to tiptoe around conversations involving your fathers, or look exceptionally apologetic when you accidentally ask me something about my “parents,” because I don’t mind. Honestly, I love hearing about other people’s dads. In fact, I would love to trade dad stories with anyone who asks. I have so many great ones because my dad was my best friend. It just seems like everyone went from feeling sympathy for me to acting like the topic of fathers was taboo, and I don’t want that to be the case.
I’m not asking you to come talk to me about my dad. It’s hard bringing this stuff up especially months (almost a year actually, damn) after the fact. I don’t even know how to bring him up sometimes. But it’s awesome hearing someone even just mention him because it reminds me that, wow, he made an impression on this person, even if it was just in a small way, but that can be hard to do. You don’t want to accidentally make me upset or cry, and that’s okay because that can totally happen sometimes. It is cathartic, so I’ve learned to welcome these moments. While grieving, you can’t control how you feel. No one can foresee what emotions are going to bubble up, so it can be frustrating dealing with me, but I promise it’s not always going to be like that. If you’re curious about me, or this process, I love conversation, but I don’t mind if that’s not something you can do.
Maybe instead, you guys can just think of him for me, and to help you do so, I’d like to tell you a few fun facts. People were sometimes scared of my dad when they first met him. He was an antitrust lawyer and wore suits every day. He slicked his hair back and had a little bit of what you could call a “resting bitch face.” And he could be stern. What threw people off is that he drove a yellow jeep that he often referred to as “the banana boat.” He was a super weird dude, but a damn great dad, so next time you see a yellow jeep, give a shout-out to Bob.
It has taken time for me to come to terms with this, but I have finally realized that this grief I feel is not necessarily going to go away with time; it is permanent. It won’t always be so hard and I won’t always be so sad, but this grief is a weight on my back that I will carry for the rest of my life. The weight will get lighter and take on different forms, but in the same way that I will never stop having a dead dad, I will never stop grieving.
There is a line in this song Truth that goes “If you can’t stand to feel the pain then you are senseless,” and that has really spoken to me in the past year. At first, I tried to occupy my mind with anything that would avoid accepting my grief. In fact, when I got the call from my mom, I remember being really worried about cleaning up my house before my family came over. All my friends who were at my house were wondering why in the world I was so concerned with straightening up, when my dad just died of a heart attack. The whole summer I spent the days not thinking about it and the nights getting too drunk, so it was all I could think about. I wasn’t able to let myself feel the pain until these points of intoxication because I denied my grief, and that is a hard way to deal with it.
My advice to anyone who loses a loved one is embrace your grief. Let it destroy you, but let it build you back up, because, eventually, it will. I said earlier that grief makes up who I am now, and I have grown to appreciate that in the past couple months. Grief puts a lot of things in to perspective for me and it makes me value the relationships I have in a way that I wasn’t capable of doing before. Sometimes grief makes me want say “fuck it” and give up, but mostly it just makes me love a little more.
Don’t fear my grief. Don’t pretend like that part of me doesn’t exist. Don’t sugarcoat the world for me because I’m tough; but, also remember I’m not always going to be tough. Let me be sad, but let me be happy too. Don’t feel uneasy when I talk about my dad. Let me tell you that he called me “babushka” more than Skyler, and that he was the one who taught me how to shave my legs, without fear of making you squirm. Remember that the person I was a year ago is still here, there is just more to me now. Don’t pity me, but know that my grieving has no endpoint.
I am not searching for the light at the end of the tunnel; I am on a journey through a park at night and the street lamps keep turning off and on. Even though this darkness is inevitable, it doesn’t have to be frightening. My dad let me sleep with a night light far longer than most parents normally do, so this is him finally turning it off and telling me that I am not invincible, but I will learn to be strong.
The "On Grieving" series is written by Wesleyan students who have lost a loved one. These sister essays reflect various different accounts of the immediate grieving processes, as it happens at Wesleyan.
If you have lost a loved one and would like support, please reach out to the author (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com). Come by Wesleyan's student-run grief support group, which meets on Tuesdays at 7:30 PM in the Davison Health Center Solariam.