10 Years. 10 Lessons.

On November 29, 2011 — 10 years ago today — my father took his last breath. His life ended, and my life as a fatherless daughter began. So often when we share stories of loss and grief, we share who our dead were, who we were when they were alive, and the relationship we shared with our dead.

But grief and loss are also teachers in and of themselves. My father was one of my greatest teachers and so many of the lessons he imparted to me inform who I am and how I mother my son. But in the last decade without him, I have also learned many lessons about life, love and loss.

Here are 10 lessons I have learned in this last decade as a fatherless daughter:

  1. If we listen, our dead do still speak with us.

The day my father died was grey, dark and rainy but as my family left the hospital, the sun broke through the clouds and I immediately felt my father’s ethereal presence. I have felt his presence in the sun ever since.

2. We will miss our dead for the rest of our lives.

I once attended a memorial service where the Reverend reminded everyone that it was in the years to come that the bereaved would need us most. It resonated with me because contrary to popular belief, I miss my father more as the years have gone on. I will miss him in new and different ways for the rest of my life.

3. Life is fleeting. Carpe Diem.

Since my father’s death, I have published a book, been published in two anthologies, have published various essays, and have been interviewed on a number of podcasts about my antiracist work. I have pursued my passions and taken risks, knowing that I may fail, but also understanding that my time on this planet is borrowed. My father’s death taught me to live.

4. Choose your intimate circle wisely.

Since losing my father, I have only held on to friendships that are supportive and mutually beneficial. My father’s absence made me keenly aware of which friends help me grow, listen to me at my best and at my worst, and are humble about how personal and unique loss and grief are. My circle of friends now is what true friendship looks like.

5. Family dynamics will change.

In our families, we all have dynamics we are accustomed to. The death of a beloved family member alters those dynamics. We can never go back to what once was. My relationships with my mother, brother, husband, and extended family members, changed once my father was gone. It is a continual adjustment and the space that was once filled by my father is always palpable. But the more we name the changed dynamics, the better prepared we are to move forward, together.

6. Jealousy is natural.

I am jealous of my peers, including my own beloved husband, who are fortunate to share their journey of parenthood with both of their parents. Witnessing said dynamic never ceases to produce envy and sadness in me. I do not begrudge other people, but I do feel envious that the same experience was stolen from me, my parents and my son.

7. Our dead are alive in us.

The more time that passes since saying goodbye to my father, and raising my son, who was a baby when my father died and is now in middle school, the more I realize how much of my father is alive in me and my child. My father is alive in my love of reading, in my ability to listen well, and in my determination to live my ideals. And he is alive in my son’s love of history, in my son’s compassionate nature, and in my son’s eyes.

8. There is laughter and joy amidst loss.

I will often think of a quirk of my father’s, or I’ll use a saying of his, and I will smile or laugh. Yes, I miss my father, and yes, there is a dull ache in my chest, but I don’t only remember my father with sadness or with longing. I also remember him with laughter and with joy.

9. Our dead do not have to be enigmas to our children.

My maternal grandfather died before I was born and I grew up hearing stories about him, looking at photos, and as a result, despite never having shared physical space with my Abuelito, he is very real to me. I have done the same for my son. My son will often make a reference to his Abo, and has even expressed missing him. He may have no conscious memory of his maternal grandfather, but that does not mean that he can’t know him, or love him, as if he did.

10. It is the relationship we shared in life that matters most.

The day before my father died, I was on the phone with him and my mother, upset that they would be unable to join my son’s 1st birthday celebration the following Saturday. I was being completely irrational — my father had one foot in the grave by this point — but I continued being difficult. We hung up and I immediately realized how selfish I was being. I called back immediately, my father picking up, and told him I understood that of course he could not attend the gathering, that I was just upset that circumstances were what they were, and that I loved him. That was the last conversation my father and I had. My father left this world knowing how much I loved him, and I live my life knowing how much he loved me.

10 years.

10 lessons.

I am so grateful for the lessons my father taught me in life,

as well as for the lessons I have learned from his death.

My father’s light continues to shine,

and his memory will forever be a blessing.

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Naomi Raquel

Naomi Raquel

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Bilingual. New Yorker. Multiethnic. Change Agent. Author of “Strength of Soul” (2Leaf Press; University of Chicago Press, April 2019)