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  • Writer's pictureJulie Cali

Four Years After My Father’s Death

I began writing to cope with the loss of my beloved father, to help process the emotions of such a sudden and traumatic life changing event. He was killed on December 20, 2018 while riding his bike in El Salvador. Four years later, I still write to cope. I can trace a line through my writings documenting my journey with grief. It began jagged, oscillating up and down at various intervals, but eventually became more linear. Then, I worried about how the world seemed so different without him, that I felt strange and out of place without him by my side. I struggled internally with feeling broken and alone. Every day for months, I woke up and reminded myself to put one foot in front of the other, to take one step at a time, to keep moving. I breathed and functioned out of necessity. Then one day I didn’t have to tell myself. My life resumed. As I accepted his death, I charted a new course for myself. His absence became the new normal. The pieces of me that were missing and broken have been repaired with time.

And now, I worry about the opposite, that the world is becoming familiar without him here. We have all moved on, and there are so many elements of our lives that he was never part of, experiences that we celebrate without realizing he’s not there. There are remnants of him around me that I hold onto to keep him close. I still have a closet filled with his clothes and a bag of oregano in my pantry that he gave me on his last trip from El Salvador. But there are pieces of my life that he wouldn’t recognize--my new car, the crepe myrtles that replaced the palm trees in my front garden, the kids all being two heads taller than when he last saw them.

My world is changing and adapting, and I’m moving forward. The chain connecting us seems longer every day, and despite my apprehension, I’m letting him go. That’s how it should be, a natural progression of grief from constant sadness to acceptance. He would want that. But there are moments when I feel guilty to still be living without him. And despite all the progress I’ve made, I still struggle with his absence. Part of it is selfish, with him gone, I had to recognize that my childhood had ended. I was no longer someone to be cared for, but a mother and a wife wearing the hat of caretaker and provider. I can never crawl back into the cocoon of his shelter. I have to be the strong one for my children just like he was for me. Why do I have to be the grown up? The other part is also selfish—I just miss him being that person who checked on me, who called for no reason at all. Four years later, I still probably cry once a day when I think about him. I dreamed of him the other night, and when I woke up for a second, I forgot he was gone. And then it hit me, and I relived that day over and over in the wheels of my brain. Forever still seems so permanent and drastic. How can there be no way to fix this? Sometimes, I imagine he’s in El Salvador riding his bike, swimming in the pool, and watching his soccer games. That he’s living his life parallel to mine, and I hope deep down that he is.

Four years and I still miss him terribly. And I’m so angry at what he’s missing—the Twinkies and Julia, the boys playing competitive soccer, Messi finally won the world cup. This has not been an easy year for many of us, and not having him here to listen and support us feels cruel on so many levels. I know he’d be so proud of my sisters, my stepmother, and I for pushing through the pain. He’d be so happy to see us leaning on each other in good times and in bad. The greatest gift you leave isn’t money—it’s family. I can hear him whispering that in my ear during one of my three hundred daily phone calls with my sisters. And even though I’m bitter at everything he missed, I have to be grateful for all those moments he was there for. The world can be cruel, and so many people never make it as far as he did. Everyone thinks their dad should live forever, but that isn’t the case for any of us. (That’s the rational part of me. Deep down buried at my core is my irrational anger that he was robbed. He road seventy miles a day at sixty-nine years old. He would have lived to be ninety-eight just like his mother, or maybe one hundred and ten like his grandmother. Had he not been killed; he would have outlived us all.)

Despite all the progress I have made processing this loss, I still no longer care about Christmas. I go through the motions like I’m supposed to as a mother. I buy presents. I bake with my children. I want to make sure this is a happy time for my children and my family. My dad would want that for us and for them. But my heart is no longer in it, and I don’t know if it will ever be. I just want to close my eyes and wake up in the New Year, free and clear of any of this. But adults don’t get days off—even though they should. Mental health is underappreciated. Often the best gift you give anyone is your time. Check in on your loved ones. Check in with those dealing with loss. Be that person who makes someone feel remembered and valued. My father taught me that. It's his legacy to all of us.

I’ve learned in my time grieving that so many people suffer in silence. Although grief’s universal, it still feels shameful. I will always mourn my father. I will always be sad that he was taken from us. That is okay. I only write about my grief to normalize it, and to let others know it’s okay to struggle. I’m proud that I pushed through the darkness and finally see the light. Sending love to all those spending their first holidays without their loved one. Julio Antonio Espinoza Calidonio, No te preocupes estamos bien, estamos juntos. Te amo y te extraño por siempre. And Linda Calidonio, I need you to live forever so we never have to do this again. xoxo


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