Thursday, December 31, 2015

I'm okay. It's okay.

It's like a silent panic. Like I'm underwater, and any struggle on my part is only going to hurt me. I feel very alone.

I do have both parents, living (for now). They got divorced when I was 6, and communicated solely out of necessity through written letters. I do have a sibling. He is a half-brother, on my dad's side, 20 years my senior. He is turning 46 in two months, and our dad may not be alive to wish him a happy birthday. I do have aunts and uncles and cousins on my dad's side of the family. My dad removed himself from them 22 years ago, when Uncle June--his older brother--pulled the plug on my comatose grandmother. "You killed our mother," Dad said. "For that, I will never forgive you." 

In those 22 years, his older sister (Aunt Jannie), his older brother (Uncle June), and one of his nephews (cousin Tom--uncle June's youngest son) passed away. All from cancer. Jannie's was brain tumors. June's was esophageal, and later, lung. Tom's was pancreatic. 

Dad's is liver.

I do have friends around to help me, too. Friends who will link arms with me as I walk through our family's go-to funeral home to plan out my dad's cremation. Friends who will refer me to family lawyers upon me realizing that dad doesn't have a living will. Friends who will walk me through the legalese of death and the dying: durable power of attorney, Medicare coverage of in-home hospice care, acquiring death certificates to close accounts. Friends who will come by my dad's house to fix our internet so I can work from his house as I stay with him for the remainder of his days. 

Yet I have never felt so alone. My brother is somewhere not in this country, and I can only communicate with him via email and sporadic texting. My remaining aunt and uncle--dad's younger sister and brother--are too wary of coming to see my dad, given their vicious separation 22 years ago. My mom doesn't know any more than I do about the logistics of death; she can't help me any more than I can help myself. Dad has no friends; he has managed to push away every single person in his life, except for me. Because, ironically, I am like him. I am stubborn. I will not be pushed away. 

I feel so much more alone each time a phone call to a friend goes unanswered. I feel so much more alone when I ask someone a question about lawyers and wills and hospice care and they simply say, "I don't know." I feel so much more alone now that it's the holidays and lawyers need breaks, too, so they're not picking up my calls, even if I somehow got a direct line to their personal number. I feel so much more alone when my brother responds twelve hours later to a question I ended up figuring out the answer to ten hours beforehand.

But I can't imagine how lonely my dad must feel. 

I have many amazing friends. I am very fortunate. I am, in fact, not alone. This is just something I have to do on my own, I guess. I just wish there was a mom or sibling or close friend of his to also share this emotional (and legal) burden with. But I'm okay. 

It's unsettling to see your own dad cry. Your dad, who used to frighten you with his loud voice and drunken slurs and hurtful hands. "There's nothing to be scared of anymore," Mom said. I stopped being scared of him years ago, I assured her. He is but a frail shell of the man he used to be. At 90 pounds, with hair falling out, missing a toe, sporting a bloated belly from gastrointestinal problems, barely able to sit and stand on his own, there's nothing to be scared of--except his mortality. It all became apparent when he started crying in front of me today. And in that moment, he was just a little boy to me. Not the intimidating, cold person I had resigned to accepting as my father, but a scared little boy. He apologized to me. "I'm so sorry. I'm sorry I was a bad person. I'm sorry you missed out on a father's love. I'm sorry I was such a bad father. I'm sorry," he sniffled. I kept my tears in, by some miraculous effort on my part. 

My dad shouldn't die believing he was a bad person and that nobody loves him. He was good to me in his own way. Or at least, he tried his hardest. For that, I love him. He just never could get ahold of his temper and anger. Broken people are like that, I suppose. And if it wasn't for the way he raised me, I wouldn't be the independent, self-motivated person that I am today. I have my flaws, but I like who I am for the most part, and it's because of him. Yes, my dad was temperamental and easily-infuriated and emotionally stunted and was an alcoholic, but I know he loves me and wishes he could have done more, or so I'd like to believe He was highly misunderstood and very, very particular about how things should go and how people should behave. Listening to his apology made my heart ache for him. I don't want him to die like this. Not like this. "That's not true," I said. "You were good to me. Look! I'm happy and I'm healthy. I grew up well. Don't be sorry to me. I'm okay," I smiled. "It's okay."

He looked at me and wiped away his tears. "Really?" He asked, like a child looking for reassurance that things will be okay. "I've still wronged your brother. Your mother. Your brother's mother. Everyone..." I think he notices as much as I do that nobody is by his side as he dies, other than myself.

We have never been an affectionate family. At least, not past my early childhood. I remember him doing very loving things. Always taking me crabbing and to the aquarium and to kings dominion. Singing "Oh My Darling Clementine" and "사랑은..." to me. Letting me play a game with him where I would step on his shadow and he would yell "ouch!" and pretend to be hurt. But at some point, every "merry Christmas," "happy birthday," and "I love you" to him started to be answered with a stiff and slightly embarrassed "okay." But I know that's his way of saying, "You too." It's okay. 

Close friends, as I leak the news, are asking how I'm doing, that they are sorry. 

I'm okay. It's okay. 

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