It’s almost 11 pm on Friday night and I”m more restless tonight than I’ve been in the entire last month of the stay at home order. I’ve spent the last 26 hours grieving alone. I’ve felt every feeling imaginable, then I’ve fallen asleep in exhaustion. But now I’m up and just don’t know what to do with myself. So I’ll try to write, because it’s how I cope.
My dad left us yesterday
Post-divorce relationships with parents are complicated, and mine with my parents were definitely affected, though in different ways. With my father, it was distance and anger. In between the ages of 8 and 38, I only saw my father twice. What I carried with me during that time were early childhood memories, some letters, and the reminders that I was a Rafael Juliá II- or Junior as he was known, through and through. My looks favored the Juliás, I was smart like my father, I sang like my father, I was “orgullosa” like my father, and weirdly enough, I had toes like my father.
There’s a story that I’ve heard and retold so much, that is by now probably so embellished, that I don’t even know which parts of it are true. According to legend, my family was at a beach in Puerto Rico and I got lost, someone found me and recognized that I was Junior’s daughter because he noticed that my pinky toe sits on top of its neighboring toe, like my father. Lots of holes in that one, right? But I tell it all the time.
In late 2009, after learning of his dementia diagnosis, I made the decision to move to Puerto Rico so I could get to know him while he could still know me. I was there for less than a year, but I am forever thankful for that opportunity and wrote a lot about him:
Then another 10 years passed, because again, life and relationships are complicated. By then, Hurricane Maria had taken my brother and his family from Puerto Rico to Tampa, where he and his wife cared for my dad.
Last November we got the news that he wasn’t well and the doctors warned he wouldn’t make it. So the rest of us siblings rushed to Tampa to say our goodbyes. By the time we got there, he was doing much better and the prognosis had changed, but our rush gave my father the great wish of his life: To see all of his five children together for the very first time ever.
We spent time with him knowing that even though he was better, the visit would probably still be our goodbyes. He fought on, but with many health complications. He had been hospitalized for the last month, but was released just last week. And yesterday, he passed peacefully, asleep in his bed, surrounded by the family that loved and took care of him.
I’m glad he’s no longer in pain, I’m glad for the opportunity I had to spend time with him a decade ago, and I’m glad I got to say goodbye five months ago. I know that I will carry him with me forever, because so much of who I am comes from who he was.
But today I am grieving alone, and this is harder than I ever imagined it. Today my heart is broken.