Losing someone you love is never easy. In my case, the person I lost was my father. Parents lay a foundation in your life and shape the person you become. But when they pass on, that foundation becomes warped. This warped foundation not only changes the way you see the world, but it changes the route, and thus, the journey you take.
I always find reminders of my unfortunate reality during the most unsuspecting moments. While I’m watching a movie, when I’m on my way out of the house, and when we sit in traffic. I recall a few simple moments when I’m sitting in traffic and remember him. But one particular instance stood out to me the most.
It was a normal Saturday afternoon. We were all in the car – me, my mother and my two younger brothers. My brothers were eleven and fourteen years old at the time, while I was eighteen. We had a great time. The sound of laughter filled the air as we made the silliest jokes and sat in traffic.
However, as we approached the source of the traffic, we all fell silent as my mother cursed and yelled for us to look down or the other way.
I peeked up a bit at my mom. Her hands were shaking on the staring wheel, and she was staring straight ahead, away from the terrifying sight. Tilting my head, I saw my youngest brother with his head down and eyes wide with fear and shock. My other brother at the other end of the car had wide eyes too and there was a hint of sorrow in his expression. We all knew the reason behind our shaken-up state.
There was an obstruction. A car accident in the middle of the road and everyone had to drive around it. It wasn’t just the fact that there was a gruesome car crash in the middle of the road – it was more than that. Because our father, my mother’s husband and best friend, died in a car accident seven years ago. Even now, car accidents aren’t such an easy topic for us.
Seven Years Ago
It was just like any other normal day in the school holiday. My brothers and I were at home cleaning up while our parents were out at work.
Except, roundabout 11am there was someone at our gate. Our aunt. A smile crept onto my face. Quickly, I rush to get the key as my excitement and curiosity grows. She never visited often, so I wondered what the occasion was. I called out to my brothers, letting them know who was at the gate. However, upon my return to the door, I noticed there was more than just my aunt at the gate now. My oblivious self back then couldn’t fathom why there were so many family members at my house today.
I opened the door to see so many people surrounding my mother, who was crying. At the time, I thought that my grandfather had passed on because I remember him having many stomach problems those days.
They went inside and my brothers and I went into my brothers’ room because we were very shy, even around family. I remember my eleven-year-old self peeking inside the living room to see what was going on and then I saw my grandmother crying – my dad’s mother.
It was then that I got scared. There was just this feeling in my gut that I knew what was going on. I rushed back to the room where my brothers were, with tears threatening to leave my eyes. We became worried. I didn’t want to believe what I already knew, so I tried thinking of alternatives with my brothers. However, we couldn’t come to any other conclusion.
People soon came into the room and hugged us tightly and, eventually, we entered the living room to greet more people. One thing I noticed was that they were all just giving us such sympathetic looks that day and not telling us a thing.
Soon, I guess, when my mother conjured up enough courage, she led the three of us to my room. Her eyes were red, and dry tears stained her cheeks. She looked awfully grief-stricken and as I think about it now, I can’t imagine how hard this must’ve been for her.
My mother took a long time to tell us what was happening. As soon as she sat down with us on the bed, she took one look at us and burst out crying again. Loud cries left her throat and hot tears fell from her eyes. Her sobs broke my heart a thousand times. I kept asking her what was wrong, and she couldn’t answer. During the process, my youngest brother, who was only four at the time, had already scampered off somewhere and it was now just me and my seven-year-old brother sitting with our mom when she was finally able to say the words.
Why Did He Leave?
Everything was a blur after that moment. I can’t remember how exactly she said it and I can’t remember how long we hugged. On top of that, I have no clue when my mother disappeared out of the room. Or, whether my room was filled with this many people before she told us as it is now, as I sat next to my aunt on the bed, crying my eyes out. I couldn’t believe it. No, I didn’t want to believe it. That my invincible, funny, and cool father had passed away.
I would never get to hear him call me his princess anymore. Or an absolute drama queen. I wouldn’t get to lay my head on his chest anymore as he watched TV. And hear his voice vibrate through his chest and into my ear. I would never feel his kisses just before going to bed again. I’d never hear his funny yet really well sung (I think) karaoke singing again either. Neither will I hear his jokes again. Even the times when he used big words to me that I could never understand. I was going to miss everything.
I remember later on I was alone and peeking through the crack of my mother’s bedroom door. There, I saw my mother sitting on the bed with my four-year-old brother. She had just told him the news, and I could tell he didn’t get it because he responded:
“What? Daddy doesn’t love us anymore?” He started to cry.
My mother said something in return, tears rolling down her face. Either I can’t remember anymore, or she spoke too softly because I don’t remember her reply. However, I remember my brother’s response.
“Then why did he leave?”
I turned to my brother now, who was not that little baby anymore. He understood now. But he would never remember our father like I did. He was too young. All he knows are the stories he’s been told of his truly extraordinary father who would do anything for those he loves.
As we sat in the traffic, I had a revelation.
Grieving is like traffic.
That car accident in the middle of the road is the person who has died. As a result of that accident, everything was slowed down. I try to move – find a way around it. But there’s no escape.
The cars around me serve as a reminder that there’s no way out. And each car is a hurtful memory.
The Toyota on the left was that day after school when two girls ran past me calling out to their father with so much glee. I remember my heart dropping when the realisation hit me that I could never do that again.
The BMW in front of the Toyota is my Grade 7 graduation. Everyone had two parents cheering them on. But as I accepted my award, one of mine was missing. I realised that he’d never be there for any of my future achievements.
In front of me stood a Honda. It represented the moment I dropped my most treasured gift from him. The ornament chipped and glass shattered on the hard floor, and along with it, my heart. I cried myself to sleep that night.
Another car on my right represented the times I wanted to speak about him like everyone else who spoke about their fathers. But the group would always go quiet when I did, no matter how cheerful the shared memory was.
The car in front of it represented the times teachers handed out Father’s Day cards for us to decorate for our fathers. Needless to say, it broke me.
I look around at all these memories. The movies I cry to, because I’ll never have those sweet father-daughter moments that the protagonists have. Watching my uncles converse with each other and joke with their daughters as I silently imagine the things my dad would say if he was there. That wedding day he’ll never attend. The fifth plate I brought to the table, out of habit, for at least a few years. Even the small arguments we’ll never have so that we can make up later on. The morning of his last day, when I never got to greet him one last time, hug him the same, and say a simple “love you, daddy.”
He’s not here and that’s just something I’ll have to live with. However, the traffic – I didn’t need to live with it. So, I started to resent the people inside the cars. There’s traffic because they stop and stare. Not because they want to help. They just want to look and know the details so that they can tell the story.
They don’t care about the bereaved family member standing there and crying. The bereaved family member who wishes that people would stop watching like it’s a movie. They don’t realise that by driving slowly, the person driving behind them is two seconds away from experiencing a panic attack.
I’m just about ready to scream.
The Effects of Trauma
Finally, we could lift our heads as we passed the obstruction in the road. Suddenly, oxygen filled our lungs, and we could all breathe again. Yet, the car was still so quiet and full of tension. My mom was visibly nervous, and I could just imagine how fast her heart must be beating.
At the other end of the car, I watched my brother. He was still silent, and I couldn’t tell what he was thinking or feeling. But it’s always been that way ever since our father died. He was never able to smile the same again or act the same. He’d changed completely.
All of us did. I remember going to school for the first time since my father passed away. My peers found out and their first response was whether I cried when I found out or if I was sad that he died. I was 11 years old just like them, but at that moment, they seemed way too childish for me to be around.
My mom noticed the quietness of the car, so she decided to put on some music.
And ironically, my dad’s favourite artist has started playing: Eminem. Stan. Of all songs. The tension in the air is thick, not just because it was a depressing song, but also because in the music video of the song, Eminem’s biggest fan died in a car accident. Just like my father. Although, I can assure you he definitely wasn’t a Stan. Just a big fan who always played Eminem’s music in the car.
And so, we sat in the car, silently, with the ghost of my father as Eminem’s voice resonated through the atmosphere. It was calming, yet at the same time haunting. Because we all knew we were thinking about the same thing.
But the music went on.
“I can’t see at all.
Even if I could, it’d all be grey.
But your picture on my wall,
It reminds me
That it’s not so bad
It’s not so bad.”
I don’t want to say there’s a silver lining, but there is. I learnt how truly important it is to love and to show that love. The significance of appreciation. I’m lucky because at least I have the rest of my family. Thus, no matter how painful the memory or how uncertain the future may be, we’ll continue to move through the traffic together with a new sense of awareness.
I’m not special and I know there are countless other people with a story like mine. Especially due to Covid-19. Like them, I know death and I know that I’ll never love half-heartedly for as long as I live. So, if I knew you, the process was this: I met you, I liked you, I love you. Fully. Life is too short to hold back until it’s too late.
So, give love. Smile at your neighbour. Water a plant. Feed a stray cat. Feed yourself. Then, water yourself because you, too, can bloom. It’s not easy – I know from experience. So, take your time and find comfort in the legacy of your loved one.