How I Learned To Appreciate My Father 5 Years After His Death

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It’s interesting what time can do to you. You can go to your high school only a few months after you’ve graduated, and it will already feel foreign.

You can come home in October from college, but that certain sunny yet cold and slightly windy weather will make you feel like you're cutting class in order to prep for the homecoming parade again.

It’s weird going away and coming home, and whether you like it or not, it will feel familiar.

I was sleeping in my bed. It was probably around 1 am. I used to sleep with my door open, and my sister slept in our guest house because she wanted her own private space. My parents’ room was on the other side of the house.

I thought I saw the lights go on in the hallway and heard the garage door open and close, but I was half asleep and didn’t really care to investigate.

I woke up the next morning and was washing my face in my bathroom when I heard a small knock on my already open door. My sister came into my room and had trouble quietly telling me that our dad passed away last night. 

"Oh. Okay then." I went back to washing my face.

I splashed cold water on my face and looked up into the mirror. 

"Well, this isn’t going to be a very good day." 

I turned around to wipe my face with my towel and realized I couldn’t seem to dry my face. I was crying. Against the wall, face buried into my towel, I didn’t know what the f*ck was going on with my life, or why this was happening.

"Who loses her dad right after her 18th birthday? He should be celebrating his birthday next month. I don’t understand. He wasn’t even 50."

What was my mom going to do?

My mom woke me up and asked me to drive her to the cemetery. I usually make up some stupid excuse and try to avoid it.

I have issues. I can never force myself to go to the cemetery and see him. It makes everything too real, you know?

Granted, the absence of his presence in my life is a very real thing, but like I said, I have issues.

Driving an hour and a half to clean out the old flowers and put in new ones, to do the Korean tradition and pay respects to him by bowing on our knees twice, to lie there and look into the sky and the sun, it’s just not my thing.

I don’t like it, as tranquil as it sounds.

I’m trying to grow and improve consistently as a person, though, so this year, I didn’t put up a fight with my mom and said, “Sure, let’s leave in 20.”

I went into my mom’s room, and she was lying in bed. I told her I was going to school, and she said not to. Of course, I told her I had to go and that I had something or other to do. I just wanted to focus on something normal, something real rather than this nightmare of my father having passed away. She didn’t try to stop me, and she said to go if I wanted.

As we finally got ready to go, I walked outside, and the weather outside was, well, the weather. I live in Palm Springs, so February is nice. It's not too hot, not too cold, and it's nice and sunny with a little breeze. It felt exactly how it did five years ago. 

I got to school and said nothing, but my teachers already knew my pops had been in the hospital for a while. So, when my first-period teacher asked me how he was doing, I broke down instantly. My best friend ran to me and held onto me tightly. My teacher said I could stay in his classroom all day if I wanted to, and he called all of my other teachers to let them know. 

My friends and I sat in the ASB room for the rest of the day. My friends’ parents sent over food to the school, and I got texts telling me they were sorry for my loss and they were there for me.

There was no traffic because it was a Tuesday, so we got there quickly. My dad's grave is at the top of this mountain, so we were incredibly high up and surrounded by peacefulness. We changed the old flowers and put in new ones, set out a blanket and did our bows. My mom and I layed there for a bit. It was a gorgeous day; the sun was shining, but it was a good 68 degrees or so. The sky was super super blue.

I was lying on my back, just staring at the sky and trying to block the sun from my face when I heard my mom mumble something.

I thought she was talking to me, so I said, “What?” She replies, “We’ll be able to just get up right now when we’re leaving, get up from lying down. But, your dad can’t. It's such a shame.”

The day had ended. Everyone was very empathetic. I realized what an amazing group of friends and teachers I had. Who else could say her whole faculty and even her principal were sensitive to her current state?

But, I didn’t want people asking if I was okay or if there was anything they could do. 

The answer would be no. I’m not okay. And no, there isn’t anything you can do.

It’s not your fault, but you’re asking me these questions I don’t want to politely answer with sugarcoated lies. So, instead, could you just ask me if I did the homework? Or ask me if I was excited for my dance competition next weekend? Or ask me if I had gotten any acceptances into college yet? 

At least I could give you a real answer. 

My mom said we should go. She had an appointment at 2 pm, and we had just been hanging out there for a while. So, with that, we said our goodbyes and that we would be back soon.

When we got home, my mom said, “Wow, five years. What have we been doing for five years? What did you do in these five years?”

I graduated high school. I missed my dad. I missed my mom because she wasn’t in LA when I went to school there. I danced. I had an interesting dating life.

I grew up (kind of, still happening). I tried to become a better person each day. I dyed my hair a couple dozen times. I interned in Korea. I graduated. I got into grad school.

And here I am, just kind of living and sh*t.

But, the thing I learned in these five years is that I'm selfish. My father didn’t even know what colleges I got accepted into.

He wasn’t there to see me graduate high school or even college.

Every third Sunday in June will be spent double tapping pictures of other peoples' fathers and resenting the fact mine isn't with me anymore.

He won’t be there to walk me down the aisle or to have the traditional father-daughter dance.

He won’t be able to see any grandkids. He won't be here for me, and it bothers me so much that I ache.

It’s annoying that things have to happen to people in order for them to act better. Why do you have to lose someone to start acting nicer to the other people in your life?

It may be a cynical thing to say, but I just don’t get it. Like why do you have to wait until Thanksgiving to tell someone you’re thankful for him or her?

Or, in this situation, why do you need Father's Day to tell your dad he means something to you with a long post on social media and a gift card to Lowe's? I don’t understand this type of logic at all.

I guess I can only hope my experience can shed light on your current behaviors to anyone in your life, not just your dad.

Rather than waiting for something to happen — something to break you — and something to elicit appreciation once it's too late, why not just try your best to currently appreciate someone?

The choice to change starts with you.