By Rana Askoul
In the early hours of February 17, I stepped out into my small garden. It was a beautiful morning and I was drawn to the chirping birds on the fig tree feeding on ripe fruits. The sky was blue and the breeze carried a mix of the mild chill of the departing winter and the warmth of an early spring.
My father had slipped into a coma four days earlier, and on that otherwise beautiful morning he was lying in the intensive care unit hooked up to a breathing tube. Surely he can’t die on such a beautiful day, I remember thinking to myself. Unfortunately, he passed away a few hours later.
I started grieving long before my father took his last breath. A few months before his death, he was diagnosed with a liver disease and we knew he had a little time left.
When I learnt that he was in his last stage, my heart sank. I felt sad, apprehensive and helpless. My sorrow emanated not just from the realisation that I would miss him terribly once he was gone, but also from my close encounter with the finality of human life.
My apprehension was firmly rooted not just in my desire to not see him suffer, but also in not knowing what lies ahead for him, as well as for me. My helplessness was triggered by our inherent longing to save those who love, care and protect us, and in my inability to fulfil this desire.
But there was another feeling inside me – anger. I could not understand why I was angry. I was not angry at his impending death, the brutality of his disease or the sad fact that soon after his retirement he was diagnosed with a terminal illness. I wanted to know why I was experiencing this particular emotion. I thought of taking a look at everything from the very beginning.
My parents married for love, something unusual in our culture and at a time when arranged marriages were the norm. As refugees, my parents aspired to bring us up in an environment better than the one they grew up in.
They held birthday parties for us that they themselves never had, gave us a private education that was out of their reach and a secure life away from war, conflict and terrorism.
With financial commitments, the burden of raising three children, the demands of the conjugal life and their own personal demons to battle with, my parents had their share of highs and lows.
Of utmost significance to me was my relationship with my father within the cultural and generational construct of the times. His love for me manifested in various things – he carried me on his shoulders when I was a young girl, always had my picture in his wallet and had a silver heart-shaped key chain with the names of his three children engraved on it.
Yet, conversations proclaiming love clearly and freely were rare, so were vulnerable embraces. This was largely due to the culture he inherited, where explicitly expressing such deep emotions and feelings wasn’t easy.
However, as a child I didn’t have this understanding. Even as an adult, I spent too much time thinking what was missing. I grew up imagining that picture-perfect father-daughter relationship and its possible manifestations.
I also, paradoxically, replicated the same behavior of shying away from proclamations of love and affection and long deep embraces.
This is why I was angry. It was this internal conflict that gave rise to anger – anger at myself being what I am. I was also angry that time had passed without tending to my wound. I was angry that time had passed without me helping him tend to his own very same wound. I am after all a lot of what my father was: passionate, warm-hearted and with a tremendous capacity to offer and receive love.
Two months before my father passed away, anger subsided and will took over. I decided to tend to my wound and his. Instead of talking about what went missing for so long, I decided to thank him for all that he had given me. I thought it would be along the lines of birthday parties and heart-shaped key chains. I found out once I put pen to paper that the list was long, and that it was full of love, the kind of love that challenges the depths of oceans.
As I helped him rest his frail body onto his favourite chair, I read him my list and he sighed. It was a sigh that one releases upon the initial comforting touch on a wound. It was at that point that I realised that I didn’t need anything in return. I didn’t need any manifestations of that picture-perfect relationship. I didn’t need him to do anything, say anything or give me anything for I had everything I needed and longed for.
Love is energy. If it is trapped within the boundaries of our wounds and their wants and needs, its exchange loses value. The giver loses energy and the receiver feeds on that temporary yet never filling exchange. When wounds heal, love is preserved in totality. It takes a life of its own existing in a self-sufficient cycle, able to give to and receive from all those observing it.
Eternity is the creation of this kind of energy and this form of love.
After my father’s passing, there is one last thing I need to thank him for: thank you daddy for eternal love.