When I was probably 9 or 10 years old, I pulled a book off the shelf called Our Dad Died and checked it out of the library. Tragedy has fascinated me for as long as I can remember, and for whatever reason that time I visited the library, I decided upon that book—a journal compiled by three kids and their mom about how their dad died and how that impacted their young lives.
I started writing about my dad about six months after he died. We had a writing exercise in my English class and the story fit the prompt, so I wrote it. Over the next ten years I would write at least 10 different drafts of that essay—not literal drafts, but writing and rewriting the story of when my dad died on at least 10 different occasions. Nearly every lesson I learned about writing prompted me to write about my dad from getting into the nitty gritty details of each scene I remembered to crafting a more poetic narrative that helped me grapple with my grieving process and create some of my best writing.
It sounds weird to talk about my grieving process 10 years after it happened and to consider myself still going through it in the last four years or so, but that’s what I’ve come to learn about grief—it is a process, but not one with a clear end. My grief has grown with me—fluctuating through the years, coming in strong at some seasons of my life then receding to the far corners of my mind at others. Nearly every year since my dad passed I’ve come to a new understanding or taken a new perspective on the event that changed the trajectory of my life.
The old saying that time heals all wounds has been disproved many times in many different ways. Some people truly never recover from an event like this. Some people use it to inspire their life like those who become cancer researchers after losing a loved one to the disease. My approach to grieving has changed at every stage of my life from not totally addressing it to letting it turn into some pretty ugly phases to accepting it as a fact of my life. The last phase is the best way I can describe where I am now. My dad passed away 10 years ago. I’m almost enough into adulthood where I’ll say “He died when I was a kid,” rather than how I describe it now—specifically: he died when I was 12.
Grief does weird things to your brain. Time does weird things to your brain. I want to share some of my writing from the past few years to honor my dad and share some of the good memories but also be honest about what the grieving process has looked like for me. These pieces of writing all tell the same story but they each factor in some different perspective. Either the story itself talks about a different aspect of my dad and my family or it was written when I was at a different point in my life and therefore saw the situation in a different light or felt differently about it. Memory is such a fun tool for writers because it changes all the time. You could ask a writer to tell a story from their childhood once each year and every year it would sound like a different story. You’ll see characterizations of situations and people throughout that if you were there you might say, “That’s not how that happened,” but I can attest these stories are all told in truth to my memory.
When he died I joined this exclusive club of kids who’d lost a parent while they were still in school. I never talked to any of the other kids about that, but I knew exactly who they were, and I like to imagine they knew who I was. We’d exchange glances in the hallway, and I think when my dad died a couple of them wrote me messages about how they knew what I was going through. And I appreciated the sentiment at the time. But soon after, I got kind of selfish with my grief. This is not your experience. He was not your father. You know what I’m going through but you don’t. That’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned over the years about grief—you should be a little selfish about it. Not selfish in a “you didn’t know him like I did” kind of way, but selfish in an “everyone handles things differently” way. And some people may be comforted by that sentiment—I know what you’re going through—but I don’t, really, and I tried to stop saying that when other people in my life lost parents as I grew up. Because I don’t. I know what it was like for me. I understand the technicalities of losing a parent, but I will never understand how you felt or how you’ll feel about losing yours.
The hardest thing that I currently grapple with is this fact that I am approaching an age where I will have had more years on this earth without my dad than I had with him. If we follow the canonical 5 stages of grief, I would add a sixth step which is existential crisis. For me, it hit right after I started college and manifested as kind of a resurgence of the anger phase. It wasn’t so much I’m angry because my dad wasn’t here to move me into my dorm. It was I’m angry because I don’t know if I would be moving into this dorm if my dad was still here. Everything that I loved about myself and where I was in my life came into question because as I fell deeper down that rabbit hole, it brought back any guilt I felt about him dying. Is it okay that I love who I became after he died? How would he feel about me now? And those are ridiculous thoughts to have about a parent—he would have loved me no matter what. I know that. But it’s kind of hard to think all happy thoughts about the situation when there is no answer. Maybe if you believe in a multiverse theory that there is a Kamaron in another dimension and an Alvin McNair who’s in his fifties and enjoying watching his kids at their different stages of adulthood, visiting this dimension could provide insight into what that Kamaron looks like. But we don’t know, and I’ll probably never know how much his death affected who I am as a person.
All of this to say, I cannot offer advice on how to deal with grief. I’ve not studied enough psychology, and I think even if I had I still wouldn’t have an answer because at the end of the day I don’t think there is an answer. If there was a one size fits all way to handle grief, we wouldn’t really feel it. It would just be one of those life things like getting a colonoscopy—everyone has to do it at some point, the doctor knows what they’re doing, and then the results show you need to fix something or you need to just get on with your day.
My stance on grief continues to be that it is everyone’s own personal journey. Some people want to talk about it every day. Some of us don’t. Some of us bring our loved ones in closer and some of us will push them away, and who is anyone to say what’s the right way? Writing has been a huge part of my grieving process, but not intentionally and I can’t say that it has made my process easier or better. It has helped me work out thoughts and kind of step back from the situation and maybe that ultimately helped me heal. Am I healed? I don’t know. I laugh about the situation now, which some people find appalling. But that’s a coping mechanism for a lot of people. It goes back to my position stated earlier that at this point, my father dying is more just a fact of my life. And I laugh about most facts of my life, so I’m not convinced this should be any different.
That’s a bit of a warning, preamble, foreword to the pieces linked below. I’ve done my best not to edit these from when I last worked on them aside from small edits for clarity or grammar. Thanks for reading!
If you get through all these pieces, you’ll learn about how I had a resurgence of grief in my first year of college. So in my writing class, I produced these two pieces. This was the first scene-by-scene essay I wrote after the 8th grade essay. It’s graphic, if you didn’t assume, but I did my best when writing it to get into the mindset I had on that day. And Bits and Pieces is a collection of little memories I had of my dad that I wrote as a similar exercise trying to really paint a scene for my readers.
During my sophomore year of college, I took another nonfiction writing class, and I did try to get away from writing about my dad, but nothing else in my life seemed important enough. I tried something new by writing it in this kind of philosophical way, and frankly this is probably my least favorite version of the story, but again it’s a reflection of who I was at the time, so that’s something.
Most of us remember 2016 as this insanely turbulent year that upheaved everything we knew about our lives or something to that effect. It was my junior year of college and I through sheer serendipity ended up in what would be my last narrative writing class at Sarah Lawrence with who would become my most significant professor, David Ryan. He taught me so much about technicalities and theory behind why we write what we do and I am forever indebted to him. We focused a lot on this idea of “objects” meaning a thing that you as the writer associate with a story, essentially. So these are a few of the objects I wrote about which also happen to be part of my favorite body of work.