Closure Is a Unicorn

My father and I struggled to understand each other. His death was what made me realize I can both love him and being angry with him.

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Closure only exists in fantasy.

My father’s death happened in what felt like an instant. The news came on May 25 that he had stage four cancer of his maxillary sinus. He died July 29, in bed at home.

For the previous ten or 15 years our relationship was defined by struggle. We struggled to understand each other. I struggled to feel his approval. He struggled to get me to me do and see things his way. We weren’t always like this, and I longed for it to go back to the way it had been when we got along.

And so when he was first diagnosed I felt an urgency to resolve everything. I wanted to dig through our rubble and try to find that closure and mutual understanding and tie everything up with a neat bow. I hoped it would spare me some of the grief I would feel when he died. Closure would save me from the sorrow, emptiness and regret that I’d soon feel, and give me the space to “move on.” I told myself I would make Closure happen.

But first, I would have to take care of his health and his wishes. In the earliest weeks of his sickness we worked together to sort through logistical things like bills, his will, end of life paperwork, healthcare needs. I followed him around the house as he dug through old drawers and files, tying up loose ends. I took him to doctors’ appointments and made countless phone calls seeking second opinions.

As we spent time together we started to recall old stories. We talked about summers in the Berkshires, and how my brother and I were sub-par farmhands in his extensive vegetable garden. We laughed over old memories of my friends and I as young college kids crashing his dinner parties. We cried together when I showed him sonogram pictures of his first grandchild growing inside my wife, Rebecca.

As his health faded, he became less responsive. Bedridden for the final two weeks of his life, I fed him and held him. I came to grips with the fact that there were no miracles of medicine or time forthcoming.

In his last days, although he probably didn’t know I was there, I sat with him and continued to tell him stories. And I continued to laugh and cry with him – next to him. He died early on a Wednesday morning.

Although those weeks felt like an instant, I am thankful for the time they gave us to rediscover our connection. They taught me that he was never going to change, but that I could. In many ways his illness gave me the opportunity to better understand and accept who he was, and forgive him for who he wasn’t. Through that time, I had learned to love him again.

But this is not Closure.

It has been just over a month since I shoveled dirt from Mount Hebron cemetery on top of his coffin, and I am just now starting to mourn. I still long for him. The memories are constant, and they surface unexpectedly. Calls to speak to my mother are interrupted by the answering machine with his voice. Getting ready for work, I “loop, swoop, and pull” the tie around my neck, as he taught me to do. While painting our baby’s room I think about his instructions on the “proper way” to use a paint roller.

Closure is a myth. Closure promises completeness. But what of my life is complete without him? And why would I want life without him in my thoughts?

It’s been helpful for me to think of the future without my father as just another part of the evolution of our relationship. An ongoing story that I can continue to access and help me deal with the joy, sadness, and sometimes anger I face when remembering Jean-Pierre Halioua.

I will think of him when I hold my child and sing songs to him or her in French. I might even speak to him when I could use some advice. I will miss his bear hugs and wet kisses. I will continue to think of the struggles we had as moments in our story, things to draw from. I see no reason declare to the world that I’ve “moved on.” I’m never going to move on from him, and I prefer it that way.

Dan Halioua is 34 and lives in Brooklyn, NY where he was born and raised. He and his wife Rebecca had their first child in November. He is an avid soccer fan and loves taking and sharing photos.

Top Image: Still from “The Last Unicorn.” Image courtesy of Jensen Farley Pictures.

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