My dad’s birthday was on the 4th of August. But that year, on the 3rd of August, my boyfriend was returning from five weeks away. I was twenty-one and increasingly nervous about how distant my relationship was getting. I wanted to spend some time with my boyfriend to reassure the fear that we were ending soon.
So I asked my dad if he would mind if I didn’t come to visit on his birthday. I suggested that I come the weekend after instead.
My dad said it was fine, that he completely understood and thought it was nice that I spent time with my boyfriend. My dad had been feeling a little unwell, so he didn’t want to do much either and would just celebrate with his girlfriend. We would see each other soon.
A few days later, I got a call that my dad was in the hospital.
Just over a month later, he passed away.
I have celebrated four birthdays since then, and my father never had another.
I still think about that decision on a regular basis. It still brings me to tears to know that I squandered that final birthday with my father for such a silly reason.
The cherry on top was discovering that my boyfriend had been unfaithful during his trip, and we then took time apart. So not only had I missed my dad’s last birthday, but I had done this to be with someone who is now no longer a part of my life.
I couldn’t have known what was coming, and yet this wasn’t the first time I had made decisions like that. My dad had been trying to spend more time with me, and I always prioritised my friends and life at university. I carried a lot of anger towards him for things in the past. I told myself that after I graduated, I would put in the time with him. I would rebuild our relationship and spend more time with him.
Isn’t that the biggest cliche there is?
I thought I had time to rebuild our relationship. I thought I had time to fix the distance between us. I thought I had time to spend more birthdays with him.
But I was gambling with something I didn’t have in my pocket, something that none of us does: time. I assumed he would still be there because I had never experienced loss so closely. I knew death existed but naively believed that I’d be exempt from losing someone until I was older and ready. I thought you only lose parents after a lifetime of knowing them, when you feel moderately ready for it. But now, not only do I know that you can lose people at any time, but I know that you’re never ready. At twenty-one or forty-one, losing my dad would always be the hardest thing.
This regret doesn’t mean that I am always at my family member’s birthdays.
My sisters live in different countries, so I can’t always be there for their birthdays, even knowing what I do. I can’t make every event as that’s just not possible. But what I can do is never forget how precious time is and how unassured it is. I can always acknowledge those moments, even with an ocean between us, and ensure they feel treasured and know just how much I love them.
I can remember this decision when I make choices in the future. I know I need to be able to always stand behind my decisions and never live to regret them like this. I will not act out of insecurity but love for the people that really matter. I will not prioritise temporary romantic love over those there for me through thick and thin.
I don’t know if I will ever stop carrying the weight of this decision because it is more than just that one choice. It’s a reflection of all the mistakes I made with my father, ones I don’t have the chance to fix. It is a culmination of the worst of me and the weaknesses I fall to. So while I can’t forgive myself just yet, I won’t sink into self-hatred, but rather take this as a lesson.
Life is short. No, far shorter than what you’re even imagining. Even shorter than that.
Every choice we make, especially those involving our time, are ones we cannot take back. So you have to be ready to defend those choices. To feel comfortable with choosing A over B, no matter what happens to you or someone else in a year.
Because if this was your last year, would you be happy with how you spent it?
If the answer is no, then make sure to change that by next year.
More on grief:
Grief Will Forever Steal Moments of Joy
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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