Five years ago, I discovered what forever meant. It’s a time and space outside of everything you have ever known, a kind of every day that stretches without boundaries, magnified exponentially. You never really get to wrap your head around the idea of it, not until something as incomprehensible comes along. It can take something as simple as a Sunday lunch that you were supposed to have, but never did, in order to understand something so profound.
Such was what happened five years ago, on the day my father passed away. When time takes its worldly half, you realize that it’s truly possible for love to exist outside this continuum. By then I had understood the meaning of forever.
Every year my heart breaks all over again because another year has gone by without him. I don’t know how they can say it will get better with time, because it doesn’t. Every day is another day to find another thing that’s not the same because he’s no longer around. Although it doesn’t get easier, you find different ways to deal, so perhaps that’s what they mean. I have known a thousand kinds of sadness without a name and have used the different words for grief, but nothing can aptly describe the feeling of losing someone you have known and loved all your life.
When Death comes to visit, it lets itself in and takes a hand to guide back home. But just before it leaves, you notice that its shadow hasn’t moved at all. Only then do you realize that it was not alone when it arrived. Death has an offspring, a child named Grief. Death just collects and leaves, but Grief does not. Grief settles in, fills that now empty space, and makes a home in a heart. Sometimes I don’t notice that it’s there, but it is. It doesn’t go away.
It took me 17 years to realize that things fall; that’s gravity. It’s not as if it’s a surprise. You always know it would come sooner or later but it always catches you off guard. I guess this is because you were never meant to be ready for it, and at 17, I was far from ready. Before that Sunday, I had so many dreams with my father in mind. I was looking forward to having him there when I took a bow on graduation day or when I received my first paycheck, or to dance with him on my wedding day. Now I’ll never get that chance.
When I remember Papa, the memory floats away as swiftly as dusk turning into night or like wisps of smoke vanishing into thin air. I count the days since his passing and hold on, afraid of the time I’ll run out of memories of him. When you miss someone who has been gone for a long time, you imagine the empty spaces that used to be filled with his movements. You think about how the world has been changed by his existence, or the lack of it. You go through the things he left and find that all that’s left is something to remember.
The hardest part of it is in the littlest things, like wanting to pick up the phone and just talk, or perhaps tell him something nice, but realizing I can’t. Sometimes there’s nothing more painful than the blow of the ordinary—that the saddest thing is not knowing his favorite color or how he took his coffee, not being able to remember the sound of his laughter, or seeing unopened greeting cards I was supposed to give him. I got to know a different side of him every day but I only got to know 17 years of that, of how his t’s were crossed and i’s were dotted, of how inexplicably comforting his embrace was. You weep for all things past and future—things you never got to say and do, and will never get to say and do. There were just never enough times to say “I love you.”
There are days that feel like years of missing my father. I miss the way he ended his calls every evening with “I love you, Leslie girl.” I miss his big flower bouquets that sprouted out of nowhere and letters for every occasion. I miss the way he always thought of me as intelligent and beautiful even if I had yet to know it for myself.
As I look back, I recall the times he was there for me to show love and support, and I realize that I am actually looking back on every day of my young life. He taught me to stand tall and face the world because he always believed that there’s something in me that can change it. Papa’s faith in me allowed me to dream dreams so much bigger than myself and chase them. He showed me how to fight my battles with just one simple guideline: When you fight, you have to fight all the damned way through.
We have our own ways of keeping our loved ones in our hearts and minds. I still look for him in the eyes of people I meet, in the words I read, or in father-daughter movie dialogues. I see him in cups of coffee, wondering if he’s missing his daily dose of caffeine and if he’s getting by just fine without it. I talk about him when my feelings get so loud, but I’ve always hated having to use “was,” so I don’t. Every conversation I have about him is an ode I never got to speak. Sometimes I meet people and tell them stories of him, deliberately leaving out the fact that he has gone. Whenever people tell me to give their regards to my father, I tell them I will. I do these things not because it makes his absence less real, but because they help me get by.
Sometimes I struggle with the possibility that my words never reach him. But I wipe all the doubts away, because maybe as long as this love exists, it’s never going to be like that. It will be so much easier if we have the assurance that our postcards to heaven are being read, but I guess death also serves the purpose of enabling us to simply believe in something that’s beyond reason.
Maybe we create our own heaven. I’ll paint a heaven where all the things I never got to say and all the words I never got to write will float like clouds, and he can spend his day watching my love color his world. In my heaven, he will always be there to read my letters until the day my mother and I finally join him for that lunch we never got to have. My heaven won’t be exactly like what we had here. I promise it’s going to be so much better.
Ten, 30, or 50 years from now, I will still miss Papa as much because I live with echoes of his love. Some good things end, but if it’s your good thing, it never really leaves. It has a way of staying with you forever.
Leslie Valerie Lipa, 22, is a 2010 management economics graduate of Ateneo de Manila University. She works for Deutsche Bank Group (Deutsche Knowledge Services).
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