Christina Ruiz Labbate is not only a friend and fabulous writer—she was also my date to the 1990 Mahopac High senior prom. Late last year, her father Milton (a genuinely lovely man) passed. Today, Christina visits the site to share her thoughts of coping with loss. You can visit her blog here.
On October 27, 2016, I lost my dad.
It was quite sudden.
There are things people don’t tell you about loss. Even if they did, you probably wouldn’t understand, until you went through it yourself. Here are some things I’ve learned over the past three months.
1. Life is a lot shorter than you think: It’s one of those cliché phrases people say all the time. But when you lose a loved one, you realize how very true it is. My dad died at 76 years of age. That may sound like a life long lived, but there were still so many more things I was supposed to do with him. I was supposed to visit Spain with him. I was supposed to visit him for Christmas. I was supposed to go wine tasting with him again. I was supposed to have some real bonding moments. I was supposed to make more memorable lifetime moments.
2. People teach you things only you could possibly learn or understand after they are gone: It’s true. There were so many times I disagreed with my dad. So many comments I found to be annoying, condescending, patronizing. No one could tick me off like my dad. Now that he’s gone, somehow, strangely, I understand. I understand his point of view, where he was coming from. To say I agree with all he embodied wouldn’t be true. Just because he’s gone, it doesn’t mean I will immortalize him and remember him falsely, as if his word was gospel. But I do understand so many more things about him now. I appreciate his love of the planet and wanting to conserve. I don’t let the water run as often when washing dishes. I scrape the peanut butter container until a morsel doesn’t remain. For Christmas I bought a potted Dwarf Alberta Spruce. It never dawned on me on how wasteful and frivolous it is to buy a freshly cut tree for less than a month of adornment. How frivolous it may not be to you or me, but to Mother Earth. It’s odd. This past Christmas season, it resonated with me deeply and profoundly.
Yet, if he were still here, I probably wouldn’t have seen it. I probably would’ve scoffed at him or rolled my eyes. How defiant I could be. Sometimes with no logical reason, other than the fact he was my dad and his preaching would irritate me beyond words, for no other reason that he was my dad and I found his advice to be pontificating and pedantic. His desire to speak so properly also drove me crazy. His constant need to correct how everyone spoke drove me up a wall. Now, my son and I correct each other simultaneously. We’ll laugh while doing so and say, “That’s so Buelo” (Abuelo abbreviated). Actually, a month before my dad died, I coined the term “Bueloism,” so if any family members did or said something that my dad was known for, I referred to it as a “Bueloism.”
3. Appreciate the small moments, for one day you will look back and realize they were the big moments: I am crying as I write this. Because it’s so incredibly true. I remember the last visit my parents made in August 2016. Little did I know it would be the last one. I remember sitting at the dinner table with my parents and son in my home. It was such a joyous moment. My heart overflows with love when I think of it. Although I unfortunately don’t recall much of what we were discussing, it was a moment I will remember as a wonderful one for the rest of my life. We all were enjoying dinner with a glass of wine, marveling at how quickly my mom could throw together such a terrific dinner in no time and how delicious the wine was. We were laughing, completely absorbed in the moment. No distractions of cell phone e-mails and texts pinging or home phone ringing. Completely enjoying the company of one another and savoring every comment, laugh and observation about life and each other. I wish I remembered more of the conversation. But it’s always been said you may not remember what people said, you remember how they made you feel. In that moment I felt happy and loved.
4. Grieving the death of your loved one is nothing like I ever imagined: I thought I’d cry hysterically every day, all day. Don’t get me wrong—I do cry hysterically some days. But it’s odd. Some days it’s for an hour. Some days it’s on and off all day. Other days it can be for a 30-second outburst. Some days I’m profoundly sad. Some days I’m furious. Some days I’m incredibly joyous. Some days I experience the entire emotional spectrum in one day. It’s so odd. Nothing like I ever imagined. It’s a strange thing to wrap my head around—that I’ll never see my dad again. I sometimes feel his presence and see him in moments and other things; at least I hope I am.
5. Apples and Peanut Butter are the best snack ever: They’re delicious and nutritious. They were one of my dad’s favorite snacks. My son and I now know why. He was right. This is an awesome snack.
Thanks, Dad …