He texted me a couple of hours before he died, but I did not answer.
Then he called me, and I told myself, “I’ll call him tomorrow.” But tomorrow never came in the same way, and there was no one to text or call back. My dad left, he moved on, he transitioned.
He died Friday, October 19, 2018.
I remember that Friday was supposed to be unique. The days leading up to it were extraordinary. On Thursday before he died, I was on a spiritual high, it was as if I birthed a child. I released a bundle of beautiful ideas, feelings, and hopes held in for so long. With my intense emotional breakthroughs came strong premonitions that a significant transition was coming.
My boyfriend and I took a week off from work and car camped on a cliff overlooking Berkeley Hills in the Bay Area. And we read, learned, and grew. We found vital answers to solve our health and weight loss issues. For hours we consumed knowledge that would teach us to heal our bodies and relationship with food. We were already eating raw vegan for weeks. I was losing weight, I was energized, and felt alive. I felt closer to wholeness but needed an extra boost to keep my evolution going. And we read this book and found the key.
For the first time in a while, we were hopeful, because this newfound knowledge would help improve the health of our families. A few years prior, my boyfriend’s father died unexpectedly in his arms with me by his side. So, we were in a desperate race against time to prevent anyone else we loved from going down the same path. The plan was to move back to NYC in February 2019, with our new bodies and restored health. But, before that, I was going to see my dad for his birthday. It would be a surprise. 11/12/18. That would have been his 56th birthday.
My boyfriend and I were to start our new meal plan that Friday, the day my dad passed. Instead of starting the meal plan that Friday, I started living without my dad.
I knew something was wrong because my grandmother’s house phone kept calling me over and over. It was only 6:30 AM California time, and I knew it couldn’t be good news. Then my mom called, then my aunt… then my sister… But I kept ignoring the phone calls. I soon received a text asking me to return the phone calls. I was too scared and waited. I did not want to deal with any more’ family drama’. Whenever I was reaching a milestone or a breakthrough in my life, the people I loved the most in the world would somehow draw me back into their dysfunction.
I did not want to be drained anymore. It was self-preservation that led me to move across the country. To keep growing, I needed to put a healthy distance between myself and my loved ones.
My priority has always been relentless self-improvement. It’s why I gave up the pursuit of money, career, friends, and accolades. I always figured that if I could work on myself, maybe my family had a chance of healing the old wounds no one ever dared to touch.
For years, my boyfriend and I had been on a mission. Deal with our family shit. Deal with our childhood shit. Deal with our parent shit. Be honest, be raw, be real not only to ourselves but for everyone around us.
Everyone in my family, especially my dad, knew this. He knew all the things I loved about him. He was a magnificently nurturing, loving, caring, devoted, always present, and in tuned father. I regularly expressed to him that I appreciated his sacrifices and how he dedicated his life to his kids. He knew how much I loved him. That I would die for him if that meant saving his life. He knew I would give it all up if he received my help. But he also knew, I wanted him to heal, more than I wanted to spoil him. When he was around me, I demanded that he face the complicated sides of himself. I held him accountable. I needed him to learn how to be sorry, to be open to change and growth. I knew this was an almost impossible task, but I always tried. And sometimes it worked, but it was still only temporary. Sometimes he showed his appreciation and even said: “thank you.” I have been taught from family, society, movies, academia, and history that people don’t change. That everyone gets worse with age. But I maintained high expectations for my dad.
I always held a mirror to my face and made sure I pulled him in to see himself. In most of our conversations, I expressed why and how he could change. I pushed him to his edge and tried to provide a soft cushion for him to land. Sometimes my dad would stare at me in disbelief at the things I would tell him about himself. But little by little, he did try to change. He tried, but unfortunately, he did not have enough time and support. I could not do it all. Just like so many people who die prematurely, he needed more. I would like to say he needed more self-will, but perhaps what he really needed was more community? Like many people in this world, he was deeply hurt and did not always have the tools to do better. So, he died. Slowly. From the inside out.
The years leading up to his death was hard, but the months were even more tragic. I can blame the divorce from my mom in 2017 as the final nail in the coffin, but that would be silly. He endured so much for so long. The year before he died, his health rapidly declined. He was so sad, so depressed, and he cried a lot. He was vocal about how hurt he was. He was lonely, bored, and did not want to live, not even for his kids… it was bad.
In late 2017 he got a mini-stroke when my boyfriend and I were trying to breathe new life into him. We were living in my childhood brownstone on the ground floor apartment, while my parent’s resided on the second floor. The situation at home was tense, emotional, and awkward. Their divorce was messy. He still had feelings invested in winning her back and felt led on by some of her behavior. He did not want to move on and was fixated on winning her back. It didn’t help that they still had to raise my little brother together. My mother had semi-moved out of the brownstone to live with her new husband. She would sleepover on the weekends at the house to see my little brother. My dad was struggling and lost in the transition. My boyfriend and I wanted to do something beautiful, so we cleaned, painted, and redid his kitchen. We bought him a new blender, kitchenware, and even some houseplants. Before this, we also tried taking him to yoga classes. He went a few times, but it did not stick. We shared our vegan meals with him, gave spirited talks, and tried to provide support and encouragement. But he was miserable. He only wanted my mom.
On the day of his first mini-stroke, we were upstairs in his kitchen painting. We wanted to renovate the kitchen and make him excited to cook again. He was a skilled carpenter, and I thought he would value having a fresh look. As we were painting, he started to harshly critique me, my feelings got hurt, and I stormed out, ran downstairs to my apartment and yelled: “forget it then, I was only trying to help you!” My partner played peacemaker, I came back upstairs, and we talked. He admitted that changing the kitchen made him feel out of control, made him feel like he was being kicked out of his home, he was scared. Things were changing too fast for him to grasp. We pleaded for him, let us help him. We expressed how much we loved him. I told him, “Daddy, we have a surprise for you, we are planning on sending you to Panama to see your grandchildren.” He started to cry; he could not take the prospect of something that good happening to him. His heart must have felt so full; he said: “no, mama, you don’t have to do that…” But I told him, “no daddy, that’s the point we love you, we want you to be happy, you deserve this, just accept it…” As we are showering him with our words, he started complaining he was getting thirsty. I handed him water, but he just held the glass in his hand at his lips… he was still… like he was frozen. I noticed he started drooling, his eyes seemed vacant. He was stuck in time.
My boyfriend and I knew he was having a stroke of some sort. When we got him to the floor, he was conscious but drifting. As we coaxed him back to us with our words, he began to slowly mumble. Soon enough, he spoke clearly and began to act like nothing happened. He didn’t want us to call the ambulance. He kept saying, “I am fine, mama, serious.” But we called it anyway. The ambulance came, and he refused to go. The EMTs tried to convince him to get checked out. All he did was laugh and play off the whole situation. This led me to believe passing out like this had happened to him before. Finally, his mother (my grandmother) forced him to go with the ambulance. When we arrived at the hospital, they confirmed that he was very ill; his blood pressure was high and off the charts.
To make a long story short, when he was discharged, my partner and I made it our mission to nurse him back to health. We crafted up daily juices, tinctures, smoothies, and healthy food. We poured into him. We encouraged him that it was not too late to start his life over. Physically, we saw improvements when his blood pressure went down, and he began losing the excess weight. Yet, his attitude did not budge. I even called multiple centers for a therapist and discussed with his doctor that he needed a psychologist. But he was still so resistant to change. He did not want the help, and he would not receive it. Or if he did want help, he was never taught how to accept it…
Over weeks, as I walked in the cold to the train station, as I showered, while at my work desk, I realized I was going to lose my dad at some point… It seemed inevitable because he did not want to live. It seemed like he chose his fate, and maybe I should accept it? I refused. I kept giving and giving and giving. Soon enough, the stress of being around him was taking a toll on my mental and physical health. My dad “needed me,” but at what expense? He “needed me,” but what I gave him was never truly enough… My love wasn’t helping, and I was drowning with him. My work situation was deteriorating, and I was getting daily migraines and panic attacks.
My dad had a death wish, and it took me a while to accept this fact. I soon realized that the only way to help him was to first help myself. I had to lose my extra weight, fix my health, get out of debt, then maybe I had a chance at being an example and getting him professional help. Then, a series of serendipitous events converged, and all signs pointed out that I needed to move. I needed to get away, and I moved to California.
The timing of my move was difficult for his life but perfect for mine. In California, I was growing and doing well. But my dad kept doing worse. My little brother recently told me that leading up to his big stroke, his eating habits were poor, he slept all day, he would say to him weird things, almost prophesying his coming death. But ask my dad how he felt, and he would, “I am chilling. I feel young. I feel good. I am not sick.”
He had his significant stroke about 8 months after I left for California. It was a bad one, he wasn’t left physically impaired, but he had aphasia. He was different. He cried daily. He was even sadder, he was confused, did not talk much, and was like a shell of himself. His personality (loud, funny, dynamic, full of life) would sneak out at times, but he was never whole. My brother moved in with my mom full time, and he relocated a few blocks from the house to my grandmother’s apartment. His worst nightmares came true. He was away from his kids, his wife, and his home. My grandmother would tell me that he would get lost outside or just leave the house randomly. He did not have an interest in rehabbing after his stroke. He signed himself out of physical therapy behind our backs. He often said random things. He did not sleep. But my hope was that I would save him when I moved back to NYC in February. I was so close.
When he died, I lost 4 pounds overnight. I was crushed. Emotionally I was empty. The most profound void in my soul formed. Like something that resided in me was violently snatched. To this day, I’m still processing what left. I have read and heard from strangers, novelist, and people close to me about the feelings that come when a loved one dies. But nothing could prepare you. No words can describe the enormity and extremity of the level of loss and pain you will feel. The overwhelming feeling of fear that takes over when you realize they aren’t coming back is paralyzing. Being alive in my body felt wrong. I wanted to disappear. To be eaten up into the extinction vortex of my dark pain.
But my dad saved me. I see it now. He saved me because I learned the importance of loving myself and fighting for my life like it is my last day. That everything at any moment is at stake. That I have nothing to fear because he left pieces of himself in me. My father, the person I loved most in my life, was my protector, the man I got my physical strength from, the man who taught me to always be myself, who was unapologetically himself (to the end), will always be part of me. I had all his power and then some.
I believe my dad is one of the many unsung heroes of our world for surviving as long as he did when the odds weren’t in his favor from birth. At times I feel angry because there really wasn’t a place for him here, and he always felt that. He couldn’t fully be himself this lifetime. Is there a place for black men on this planet? Is there a place for our warriors? Is there a place for their love to not be feared? For them to be strong and not broken? For a man to put the love of family before his career. Is there a place for them to be complicated and messy? Is there a place out there for his brash, passionate voice to be heard? Where his words would not be misinterpreted and ignored. Where is the world where he is not a victim of his gifts? He was a fighter without a battleground to fight on.
I miss my dads’ passion. I miss that voice of his, deep, smooth, and loud like he swallowed a microphone. I miss seeing him laugh with every fiber of his being, holding his belly and stomping his feet. I miss his thick black eyebrows and round eyes. I miss holding his talented hands and running my fingers on his calloused hands.
The doctors said that he had a hole in his heart, and his heart was enlarged his whole time. I feel it was a testament to the enormity of his is soul, how great his spirit is, and how BIG his love for his kids was. A man that special, and with the amount of fire coursing through his veins, he needed that much heart to match. Every day since his death, I speak to him. I tell him about my conflicted feelings, and my wishes deferred.
Daddy, I wish.
I so wish… that in this lifetime, I got to see you flourish the way I knew you could have.
I wish my kids could see how much of a master carpenter/artist you were.
I wish they could feel the firm grip of your hands.
I wish you could have been an architect like you dreamed.
I wish you could have gone on those long adventures and road trips we always talked about.
I wish you could have learned and expressed your genius freely.
I will forever cherish your crazy sense of humor, your pragmatism, your will… omg.
You did not take no for an answer.
You were so relentless…
I will miss you stalking me. Calling me daily over and over, like it was the end of the world, just to say something random and irrelevant.
I remember your dad.
I remember you.
I see you.
I knew you.
I remember you holding me close in your arms, with the sun beaming down on my closed eyelids, as you carried me safely to my car seat.
I remember you patiently combing my hair.
I remember you making my lunch every day until I left for boarding school.
Every time you moved me in, I remember our long car rides and when you helped pack me out of my dorms in Pennsylvania and Connecticut.
I remember you.
I remember your whistle.
I remember your humming.
I remember your love of music.
I remember you singing salsa.
Your beautiful voice….
Your love will not be forgotten.
You are alive because I am.
You are alive because you have people who you have touched and made better.
My kids will not only know you, but they will feel you like I did.
I will wait for you pops.
I will wait to see you in the trees.
I will continue to see you in the desert.
I will always feel you when I am running and tired but imagine your legs embossed on mine.
I see you on the moon.
I hear your voice in the rain and in my heartbeat.
I love you.
You are never dead.
It’s only begun. Again.
The morning my dad died, I received a phone call after phone call. I remember telling my boyfriend, “the only reason everyone is calling me must be because Wita died or he died.” My grandmother, who we called Wita, was chronically sick for years. She mustered up enough strength every day to be his primary caretaker. But her health was failing. I expressed my worry to my boyfriend that, “if Wita dies, then my life would instantly get more complicated.” I knew I would have to take care of him, and I really did not want the burden. I felt guilty, but it was true. He was becoming a burden for those who loved him. His death wish was hurting us all.
I finally called my mom and asked her what was wrong. She told me so slowly and so gently. Initially, I cried because I was so angry. I cried because I did not save him in time. I cried because I saw the inevitable writing on the wall. I remember yelling, “of course, he died! What else did everyone think would happen?!” I think that is what my life is teaching me, that change doesn’t come from some miraculous miracle, it takes hard work.We avoid tragedy by healing ourselves, by dealing with our generational curses, by cutting through the brush, and we each have a machete to bear.
He died in his sleep. The last person, my dad, spoke to was my mother. That night he must have called me right before he called her. But he always did that, that was his pattern. He always called too much, which was not out of the ordinary. Me not picking up was the routine, because he would likely say something toxic or detrimental on the phone. Lately, our conversations left me feeling worse and sad. I do wonder what he would have said. I think he knew to some degree he was passing, or he had to make a choice.
Would he have told me at that moment? Probably not. Would he have said something aggravating or random? Ha-ha probably. But what if I picked up? What if’s are hard. I know that my reasons for not picking up are the only reason I am as far as I am today. I own it. My decisions are aligned and attuned to my truth.
Still, seeing his WhatsApp messages on my phone is hard, as are seeing his voicemails. Is it weird that I have been collecting his voicemails for years as if expecting him not to be leaving them one day?
He had a stroke in his sleep, with his door close. He knew to not have his door closed. He should not have had his door closed. But maybe he should have? My biggest consolation is that he is not truly gone. I believe we have lived before and after this. I like to think in another dimension he is happy. I know he is. I do feel the need to mention that he did not die a failure. He is a descendant of strong, intelligent, talented, and resilient people. Because of him, I am here. I like to think that he was happy for a while. He experienced love, joy, family, he married, had children, had fun, laughed, tried, and did his best. And I am proud of him, I hope he knows that.