Today would have been my father's 68th birthday.
I would have woken up here in Asia, in a time-zone 6 hours ahead of him, thought about him as soon as I opened my eyes - having lovingly anticipated this date for a few days now, and would have immediately written him a gushing happy birthday message, telling him how much I love him and how wonderful he is and how I can't wait to see him soon (even though we only ever really saw each other every 3 or 4 years). I'd think about him on and off all day, and as soon as I got home in the evening would get on Skype right away, and call him.
But this year, I can't do that. I can't call him Pop anymore, I can't laugh at his silly dad-jokes, I can't make him laugh in mock-shock at my life, I will never hear him smiling as he speaks to me, proud of how similar I am to him. He always told me that - in fiercely forging my own path and embracing my own freedom - I was just like him. He never ever questioned my choices, and decisions. He never doubted the paths I wandered down. He just listened - genuinely interested in my life. He was the most non-judgemental person when it came to me. I loved speaking to him, I loved regaling him with tales that I knew would make him laugh, smile proudly, and that he would store away in his heart for retelling to his friends and loved ones at a later stage. He remembered everything we talked about, and if he worried about me - he never let on. He made me feel completely free. He allowed me to be ME.
My father died on the 3rd of August of this year - just 3 short/long months ago - while I was in the air, on a plane, en route to see him and say goodbye. He had been in a coma for almost a month prior to that, as his body slowly starting shutting down, each organ gradually failing him, as he let go of this life... so the goodbyes would have been purely for my own closure. Or maybe he'd have heard me, even deep in his coma? It doesn't matter now.
The last time I spoke to my father - and this is something that I will ALWAYS be grateful for - was just before they wheeled him into the Operating Room. He had been in absolute agony for a week in hospital before that, unable to sleep, eat, speak. We were told that he had a 50/50 chance of surviving the operation. I was able to tell my father, the very last time that I spoke to him, that I love him SO VERY MUCH.
And that's all I ever really wanted to say.
He was in so much pain that he could barely whisper a response to me, but he did. The last words my father ever said to me were "I love you, Daughter."
I sob as I type these words, for I had always loved how my father had used "Daughter" as a proper noun, as my name. I was not his daughter, I was his Daughter. I could hear the capital letter every time he said it.
I will never hear him say it again. Except in my head. I can still hear it so clearly in my head. His thick Russian-Lithuanian-Israeli-South African accent moulding the words in ways that no-one else ever will.
It never gets easier. I can tell you that.
The trauma subsides. The shock wears off. But the sadness is there. Constant, deep, endless.
What I have learned, is to not allow myself to think about it. all. the. time.
In truth, you have to block it out sometimes, or you will live your life in a perpetual state of anguish and sorrow.
I cannot look at photos of my father for more than a few seconds, because I know that the immediate feeling of love will quickly be overtaken by one of hollowness, and loss. My eyes fill with tears very quickly if I even allow myself to think about him for more than a few seconds.
It's just so startling. To have your father there, and then not.
An old friend wrote me recently asking how I was. This was my response:
"I am, in truth, much better. I will never stop being sad. It never goes away - I think that's the hardest lesson. It never fades, it's never over, you never move on. It just IS. I can't think about my dad without tearing up, I can't look at his photo for more than a few seconds. I can't shake the feeling that I can and still will call him again one day and have a chat and a catch-up with him, and then I realize that I NEVER EVER will again, and it hurts... SO... DEEPLY! But it is what it is. And there's not a damn thing I can do about that.
So I don't let myself think about it for too long. It comes into my head, I give it a moment to honour his memory, and then I banish the thought lest I plunge again. I don't want to be sad. I don't like it. I think I harbour a profound fear that if I one day let myself go, I will fall so far and so deeply that I won't have it in me to pull myself back up again."
The last vision I have of my father is from standing on the shore with my aunts, uncles, and a cousin... staring out at the black waves breaking on a black sky, late at night... watching my brother, trousers rolled up to his knees, standing in the surf, pouring my dad's grey ashes out into the sea - as per his final request.
We all sobbed, hugging each other in the dark, in the fierce night breeze blowing off the water.
Took turns, one by one, to walk down to the water's edge and say our own goodbye to him.
It was in that moment - hugging myself tightly, my whole body wracked with sobs, a myriad of thoughts and emotions washing over me so forcefully that I felt like I was physically swaying to-and-fro - that I suddenly heard his voice again: CLEAR, distinct.
"I love you, Daughter."
I remember looking up at the sky, at all the twinkling stars, the sound of waves breaking on the shore, feeling the circle of love and energy of my family at various spots on the beach around me.
"I love you, Pop. I miss you! Can't wait to see you again!"
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DADDY. xxxxx