The day my dad died

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Hello

So this is going to be a bit of a downer. Well- maybe, I’m not sure yet.

When I was about to turn seven years old, almost exactly two months before, my father passed away in a car accident. I didn’t know it when I woke up that morning, and I didn’t know for a long time, but that day would change my life drastically. Opening up about this is strange to me, I almost never talk about my dad.
Especially not the day he died. I know there are plenty of people who lose a parent too young, and it’s hard to talk about with anyone who hasn’t gone through it themselves.

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I don’t remember much about my father, I mostly know him through stories people have told me. From what I’ve heard, he was a really funny and welcoming man who was loved by a lot of people. The turnout to his funeral is pretty telling that those weren’t soothing lies. I remember him with a camera in his hand, always taking photos and filming the people he cared about. The one thing I do remember him telling me, was when I got my first disposable camera.

“Never take pictures of buildings or nature. There are plenty of people who already did that, and they probably did a better job. Take pictures of your friends. ”

On my first school trip, I started taking photos of buildings when those words suddenly crossed my mind. I took pictures of my friends the rest of the day. I still have those photos, and he was right. In ten years’ time I won’t give a flying F about some random ass tree, but the pictures of my friends are priceless.

On the 15th of April 2000, my dad went to work like he did amost every day. He was a dentist, and had a practice in another city. I had to look this up, but it was a Saturday. That explains why we were still home when he left, and I remember my sister throwing a tantrum over wanting to go to work with him. I was little, so I might have gotten the days messed up here. My sister was an absolute daddy’s girl, and she went to work with my dad pretty often if my mom would let her. That day, she wasn’t allowed to go. I don’t remember hugging him goodbye, or what I told him last. There was absolutely nothing remarkable about that day at all. Just a random Saturday.

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Sometime during the late afternoon, my mother got a phone call. My oldest brother and sister were thirteen and fourteen years old and they were told to look after me and my other eight year old sister for a few hours. Dad had gotten into an accident on his way home, and she had to go to the hospital immediately. She didn’t tell us anything else, and I doubt she knew much more than that at the time. I think she knew it was bad, though. This is going to sound strange, but I reaaally didn’t care.
Could. Not. Care. Less.

Maybe it was how my mother told us. She had her way of talking, like everything was always going to be alright. Up until then she has always been right, and I has zero doubt in my mind that anything was wrong. I think my oldest sister did know, because I remember her being very tense as soon as my mom left. She knew something was up.  My oldest sister was someone I really looked up to back then –still do-, but I knew when to leave her alone. This was a day I knew not to bother her.
I don’t remember much of my brother that day, but I think he picked up on my mothers’ vibe as well.

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Hours passed, and the atmosphere of the day gradually changed. It was a beautiful sunny day; we had our Easter holiday coming up. I played with my sister for a while, watched some cartoons and the two of us got progressively more bored. Dinner time rolled around, and people started to show up at our house. Something was definitely off then. They were whispering amongst each other, not wanting the kids to hear. Eventually, we were told that my mom was on her way home.
My mom.

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I was talking with my sister a lot that day, the one closest in age to me. We were seen as the little ones, and left out of every conversation anyway. We were used to that. Usually we would fight when we played together, but that day we got along without a problem. We came to the conclusion he was probably in a wheelchair; and that was what they wouldn’t tell us.  We agreed we were both ok with it. We would handle ‘the situation’.
Pretty adorable, looking back now.
When my mother came home that night, she wasn’t alone. My sister and I rushed out to greet dad, but he wasn’t there. Just a whole bunch of people the two of us only knew by face, random people we didn’t care about at all in that moment. We were told to sit down in the living room. I might have been a baby, but even I knew this really wasn’t good. It was like a dark blanket was suddenly thrown over the house.

I know my mom felt me looking at her, but she ignored my stare. I don’t blame her for it, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been able to look at my kids face either, knowing what she knew.

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My mom didn’t break the news, she just stood there. She still refused to make eye contact with me; she was just kind of blank. Red and puffy eyes, but not crying. I never saw her cry, not even then.
I don’t even remember who told us, or the exact words. My sister just burst into hysterics and I joined in as a reaction. The entire room was in tears, and the only thing I apparently managed to say was;

“Who will brush my hair now?”

Maybe you think that’s the most ridiculous reaction to hearing your dad just died.
I had really long hair at the time, and the only person allowed to touch it was my father. He brushed my hair with care and took his time, never hurting me. My arms weren’t long enough to do it myself yet, so that was the only thing I could think about.

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The rest of the night is a bit of a blur to me. Crying makes you tired, and I was brought to bed pretty soon after that. I fell asleep easily; I had no real clue of what had just happened. I didn’t know what it meant.
The next day I woke up to another wonderful day, but quickly remembered the day before. I’ve never been that much into Easter, but since then I really hate the holiday. That time of year also, spring is not exactly my favourite season. No idea if this has something to do with it, but maybe.

People came to our house for a while. One woman cooked us food daily, my mother couldn’t be bothered. My grandma came all the way from the Netherlands to see us in Italy, so did my half-siblings. Usually that was really exciting for us, and it still was, but they were sad. Everyone was so sad. I decided I didn’t want them to cry, so I tried to be tough and happy. I tried to make them smile. If I wasn’t sad maybe that would help them not be sad.
Kid logic.
Did not work.
I kept that up for way too long, not wanting to be another sad face in the room. I would never allow myself to be upset in front of others, which is not a good thing. I even told my mom three days after my dad died that I was already “over it”, so she didn’t have to worry about one more person being upset. I didn’t talk about my dad with her for a very long time.

Grown up things were arranged that I wasn’t a part of. I just know we made a lot of drawings.

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It would be years before I finally learned what actually happened on that day. My father was notorious for speeding, and driving fast is not unusual in Italy anyway. He was driving fast, wanting to get home. Another car was parked in the shoulder of the highway, and it backed out just as my dad was driving by. He hit the other car with an intense speed, and he died instantly. No pain.
The other guy was fine, not a scratch.
My mom had always told me he had a heart attack in the car; I’m guessing she didn’t want us to know he made a mistake to speed. He was at fault.
Our parents are superheroes in our eyes until we learn one day that they are flawed humans just like everyone else. My dads’ error in judgement cost him his life.
I’m glad I had a few more years of ignorant bliss.

On the one hand, I’m thankful I was so young. It’s a vague memory for me, and I don’t think I felt the same pain my older siblings did on that day. Especially my half-siblings who were around the age I am now, must have felt the loss really intensely. It was the first time I saw my half-brother cry and get emotional, which was the only moment I remember crying along with him. On the other, I missed out on so much and the grief came gradually. I’ll never have grown up conversations with my dad, he won’t be there when I break my heart and he won’t be there on the day I get married to walk me down the aisle.

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My best friend lost her father a few years ago, way too soon as well. We talked about ‘who had it worse’ sometimes. I think she did, seeing her dad go through a disease that caused him so much pain. Knowing that your time together will be up soon taints memories, I would think.
She thinks it’s worse that my dad was gone so suddenly, he had no time to say goodbye and express his love to us. No arrangements were made and I never really got to know who my father was.
To be honest, both situations are pretty damn shitty if you ask me.

 The relationship I have with my best friend intensified after that time, our mutual understanding of grief made us closer.
We also make really dark jokes about it that horrify people.
Just a few months after my dad passed away people started to forget already, but I would randomly think about my dad and get intense sadness even years later. I told my best friend the day after her dad passed away that I didn’t care if it was two weeks or three years later; if she needed to talk about her dad or just wanted to cry she could call me and I’d listen. The one thing I’ll never forget is this one girl who told me to “get over it” when I burst into tears on father’s day when I was 11.
I know you were 11 too, but f*ck you

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I have absolutely no idea why I decided to open up a tab and write about this day. I left a few times and came back and I cried throughout writing unexpected, so I think I just needed to do this for myself. It’s still one of the worst days of my life –although I have some pretty sweet runner ups- and I’m in a sharing mood.
You. Are. Welcome.

If you’ve gone through a loss recently, I’m not going to tell you that you’re ever going to be like you were before. You’re not.
Sorry.
My heart broke that day, and every single day since then a part of me has been missing. On some days I feel it more than others. Time does help, but you never forget and the pain stays. Something might happen that makes you remember that person and it will hit you like a ton of bricks.
Maybe it’s hearing a song in the supermarket one day, or smelling a perfume, or finding something that belonged and meant a great deal to that person who is no longer here.

To me, it’s holding a camera. Film cameras in particular will make me nostalgic. My dad took and developed his own photos, but he never got the chance to teach me how. Photography of any kind fascinates me, but especially photography of people. Most of the photos I used in this post were taken by my father. They are little moments captured that I’ll have forever. My half-brother has the same feeling, I think. He constantly takes videos of his children now. People will also tell him to put the camera down, but we both understand why we do it. I’ll always have my dad to thank for that, and that makes me smile instantly.

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I hope you took something away from this post. Either you understand this feeling and I’m sorry for your loss, or you get some tiny bit of insight in what it’s like to lose someone you love.
I hope you won’t learn what that feels like for as long as possible.

Best wishes and much love, I promise my next post will be a lot lighter and more upbeat.

 

Lizz

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xo

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