On My Father’s Passing

My father passed away on Friday morning. It had been a chaotic morning for me. I was exhausted. I was late to catch a train from Paris to Bordeaux because I got lost on the way to the Metro. My Metro pass had run out, so I had to get a new ticket and there was someone at the ticket machine. I barely made a Metro which was just about to leave. I knew it would be close. My sister tried to call me on the Metro, but I was trying to see how much time I had to get from the Metro to the regional train station and I missed her call.

When she couldn’t reach me by phone, she texted my brother and me with the news.

My Metro train was approaching the station and I had four minutes to transfer from the Metro to the station before my train for Bordeaux left. There was a ticket validation check on the way from the Metro to the regional train station. I had checked on the Metro and if I missed my train for Bordeaux, the rest of the trains that day were sold out. I had a noon meeting. I ran through the station, dragging luggage, as fast as my non-sprinter endurance runner (who hadn’t run in awhile) legs would take me. My seat was in the last car of the train. I got into the car, relieved to have made the train and there was someone in my seat. In a moment of panic, I wondered if my seat had been sold because I wasn’t there in time, but that was just paranoia as the person in my seat had just gotten confused about their seat placement.

I placed my bags in the luggage and sunk into the seat just as the train began moving. Then I tried to FaceTime my siblings, but the signal wasn’t strong enough on the train. I saw notices for wifi on the train but couldn’t connect. Finally, I disconnected then was able to get on the internet.

Both my sister and I were in a state of shock. We knew that our father was old and that his time was coming sooner rather than later, but not this soon. Our dad had just sent me birthday greetings two days before. He had just video chatted with my sister the day before. He had done a video chat with my sister, my daughter and I as we were driving last week. We knew that our dad had been in the hospital recently, but he was vague as to why, telling us only that he was having trouble eating. He said that he would be fine if he could just have someone take care of him, so we tried our best, across the Pacific Ocean, to try to find him help, but then he changed his mind and said things were too costly.

My sister was the most upset of the three of us, which makes sense because: 1) she was the closest to our dad; 2) she had not yet experienced the death of someone close to her (her mom is still living whereas my brother and I have lost our mom, and in more recent years, a close aunt – my mom’s sister, and a month ago, our uncle, my aunt’s husband); 3) she’s the youngest of us; 4) she’s going through the most transition right now. In the past 10 months, she’s moved away from everyone she knows, had to start a new life in a new country, with a sister she hasn’t known for very long, and now lost her father. My sister said that our father finally felt that he could let go because he felt that she would be okay, which was a comfort, but she felt so sad that he was alone when he made the transition from this world.

Of my siblings, I am the one who lived with my father the least, and I really only know him through them. He had left my mother before I had a memory of them ever being together and I only saw him 4-5 times (once a year) until I was 6 and then not again until I was 16, after my mother’s death. We exchanged letters occasionally. I did my best to make him proud, in spite of it all. I longed for a father to do father-daughter things with, but I wondered if he would have done these things even had he stayed in our lives. From what my siblings say, I have doubts.

But now, he was gone. A permanent ending to a relationship that had never really begun. A finality to something that was always ephemeral.

I was a world away from everyone, both literally and figuratively, on a train, on a trip that represented a rediscovery of parts of myself that I hadn’t accessed in years, a trip by myself, for myself, during a seemingly never-ending pandemic, that had taken every ounce of resolve to give myself permission to take. I couldn’t be there for my sister. I couldn’t help my brother, and I was going to a place that represented the closest thing I had to a home.

My father’s death in this context felt also like a homegoing, because my father had always been an apparition in my life, appearing occasionally to remind me that I was not really an orphan, that I had histories and connections that were part of me that I could not ever fully escape or ignore, that I was, despite an enduring estrangement, still a part of him, and that he was also a part of me.

I spent moments for the rest of that day, in communication with my siblings as they tried to take care of themselves, each other, and the logistics of our American citizen father dying in Bangkok, none of us speaking Thai, his wife (my sister’s mother and his next of kin) also not speaking Thai and not initially having a visa to enter Thailand from Burma, and all of us unable to take care of anything even if we went to Thailand. But these were moments. For the most part, I did what I do in the face of grief when there are other things to do and people to be present with, I moved forward as best I could.

It is only now, as I am returning home, from a trip that has been so extremely profound for me, that I have time to reflect on my father’s death. And in this moment, I have an overwhelming wish for peace for all of us. For him, in his passing, that all of the guilt he may have carried about what he did and didn’t do in our lives, that all the love he meant to show, in his own way, to each of us, that all of the hope he had for each of us, that he made peace with all of it, whether things were the way he hoped for or not. For his wife, as she moves forward without him. For us, his children, as we reckon with our individual relationships with him in life.

My father is gone, but before he left us, he gave me the greatest gift in bringing me together with my sister, and in having also fathered my brother who is my greatest champion. My siblings and I have one another, and we are stronger for it. My siblings and I are imperfect, but we are all doing the best that we can, with the resources we have and the lives we’ve lived.

I don’t know how to end this reflection, so I will end this way. My father was a deeply flawed, incredibly stubborn, imperfect person, but he was my father. He was human. From a deep sense of his own inability to be who he wanted to be, he put his expectations on others. He simultaneously craved and feared love, from those he loved most. So perhaps in his death as with his life, there is a lesson for me, a lesson in who I have been, who I am and who I want to be. May he find rest in his transition.

3 thoughts on “On My Father’s Passing

  1. I’m so sorry to hear about your father, my friend. My heart is heavy for you and your siblings/family and I am praying for protection over all of you as you grieve and reflect. Thank you so much for sharing your heart through your words. I feel honored to know a bit more of your story.
    Much love,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *