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Two Years

The room was filled with nervous energy and hushed tones. On occasion, a laugh or a wail interrupted the quietude, the product of babies and toddlers growing restless from the wait. Snacks were offered, as were iPads, to appease the impatient. My entire family was gathered together in one space, all dressed in our finest attire; had the location been any different, one might have thought we were preparing for a wedding. It was, however, the day when we would be laying my father to rest.

While the days leading up to his passing were a blur, as were the ones that preceded his funeral, a few moments play in my mind very clearly. One would be the hour he entered into eternity, which happened to be an hour before our boarding time to fly back. In the early morning chaos of getting the last of our bags packed and moved to the door, Hubbs and I had been fumbling our way through the living room in near darkness. We were just about to rouse our sleepy toddler and call the cab company when my phone began to ring. Despite knowing that my father was dying, I somehow failed to consider the possibility that he might actually do so before I could say a final, "I love you Daddy." And yet, the breaking voice on the other end of the line confirmed my very worst possible scenario: we would not make it back in time to say a final farewell. In fact, by the time our plane touched down, his body would already be gone from the hospital room. Our good-byes would have to wait until the viewing.

The other moment etched in stone in my memory is the hour prior to the memorial, when we as a family gathered together one last time with my dad's body. While others fought back tears or wept openly, I couldn't even muster one single tear as I stared into the open casket. He would have loved to be here with all of us and all of his friends, I thought to myself, but he isn't.

There lay the skin and bones of the man who gave me life, and pee-my-pants tickles and cooking lessons and unsolicited advice and mah-jong winnings and dozens of pounds of char siu, but my father? He wasn't there.

Dressed in the cranberry Chinese suit I got him from Hong Kong during my inaugural teaching year, and wearing his wedding ring and the ruby one that the four of us had conspired to surprise him with several years earlier, his remains rested inside the silky cream-coloured upholstering, clutching his Bible. But my daddy? This wasn't him.

This was just his packaging, a cocoon that housed the caterpillar who now flew freely as a fully-realized butterfly in the Creator's presence. In that moment, I felt so robbed, and so regretful and sad to not have had the opportunity to convey my heart to him once more before he left this world. Selfish though it was, I couldn't say good-bye, and I grieved that loss almost as much as I grieved the actual loss of my dad. Any promise of closure that a viewing, or a funeral, might have offered was a complete lie. There would be no final good-bye.

Even now, two years later, sometimes the bitter tears fall. The grief is accompanied by second-guesses, and what-if's, and if only's. My only consolations are the promise of seeing him again one day, and the assurance that the message I texted my mom to relay to him six hours prior to his passing had been delivered, and I'm fairly certain from the timeline of my father's last hours that it was upon receipt of this message that he felt the peace to be able to let go of his earthly commitments and embrace the invitation of eternity.

And so, on a day when we typically celebrate love, might we all feel challenged to make the most of every opportunity to let the ones we love know just how much they mean to us? I don't even remember the last words I uttered to my dad, or the last ones he actually heard, since his hearing had begun to fade as the cancer metastasized. I just hope that the ones he carried into heaven from me were, "I love you, Daddy. Thanks for being the best dad I could have had."


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