I had a plan for 2020.
In an instant, it was all gone. My Fulbright was over. I didn’t get to say goodbye to all of my students, friends, and community. The ease of travel vanished, plans with my American friends were broken as we returned to our respective “homes” in the U.S., and the work I had begun at my university would never be completed.
I arrived in New Jersey on March 15th. I spent an isolating two weeks alone in a studio Airbnb in Jersey City. As the world around me changed, my inner world changed too. I was filled with shock, looking at the world through a lens of anger and bitterness for what I had lost.
I didn’t know that my world was about to change more than it already had. After two weeks, I returned to my childhood home in the suburbs of North Jersey, eager to be reunited with my 95-year-old father. He was strong when I visited him during Christmas break. He was always strong, a fighter wanting to see his children and family reach milestones and experience the joys of life.
He was a fighter, but his body was slowing down. He fought every day for three months, sleeping, finding strength to eat and drink, and still giving hugs and kisses to those he loved. I was in denial that life couldn’t be more painful that it already seemed. I couldn’t be losing the father that always recovered from every challenge, the father that fought to be there for every milestone in my life.
With each day, I sat by my father’s side as he slipped further and further away. The nights became longer, and the pain in my heart deepened as I wondered if my last moments with my father were near.
The scene is a distant memory that continues to play before me. I was a body moving through a loss I couldn’t endure. The sound of the trumpets faded in my ears as the Navy played Taps and honored my father’s military service. The priests prayed words I couldn’t focus on. The members of my family stood distanced, and in the space between them, I longed to have the support and presence of friends who could not be there.
The pink roses were laying in the shape of a heart, placed so perfectly and soundly. My sweet Poppy.
My father died on June 13th, a day I will mourn for the rest of my life. At the start of this year, I didn’t know I would live with the gut-wrenching pain and sadness that I have felt for the last few months. My father was unlike any person I have ever met, a man of steadfast love, of faith and humility, of openness to new possibilities. He had me when he was 71-years-old, a testament to his belief that change and newness is not something to be feared, but instead an opportunity to love in a new way. Having the gift of his presence was the greatest joy of my life, and I can only begin to pray for a heart to lead and love like his.
It was a hidden light, a blessing in disguise, to have had the opportunity to be home with my father during his last months. I cherish that gift, and I walk with faith and peace knowing there is continued light ahead.