I love the momentum of a “new year” whether it’s literally a new year or a turn around the sun (birthdays) which is why I mark significant dates as anniversaries during which we are “starting anew.”
February 11th marks one year of my father’s passing, and a little under one year since I’ve published a blog post. I would love to say that this was intentional, but it wasn’t. I was just dealing with a lot of shit and spending too much time away from what feeds my soul (more on that in another post that’s been fermenting).
When you lose someone as significant to your life as a parent, you’re transformed. This is something I found myself declaring in the early days to my therapist and anyone who would listen post-father loss. I felt a seismic shift within myself but didn’t know what that would look like. But there are some earth shattering experiences that you can’t go through without unlocking a part of yourself that needed to be let loose at some point so you can become your whole self.
So here’s my year-in-grief-review, picking moments that stood out to me and felt connected to my father-loss.
- I told a friend that I felt like I could “kick doors down” and that I “wasn’t afraid of anything!” and I think it was the adrenaline from the shock of my dad’s death speaking at the time. But little things started taking shape and manifesting.
- In the wake of anti-Asian sentiment and hate crimes, I took my very Asian name back o f f i c i a l l y, the one given to me by my parents: Lasamee Kettavong.
- I embodied the “kick doors down” power and somehow no longer gave a fuck whether someone liked me or not. I began to let all of my colors show, wherever I went and with whomever I spoke. Life is short and the unexpected will happen (which you CAN expect, ha. ha.).
- I’ve thought about what my epitaph would be and what my tombstone would look like since the time I learned what an epitaph was (probably in high school english class). My tombstone sure as hell will NOT read “Laci” because that’s not who I am. My name means something synonymous with “celestial light” and I can’t live with myself avoiding embodying that brilliance that my mother gave me, so here I am, nice and shiny (read: oily, lol) for ya.
- Throwing myself into learning more about the motherland and connecting with other Lao folx has helped me feel like part of a community and that I belong and am accepted. That’s mind-blowingly heartwarming for me. For some reason, my dad didn’t really help the family become a part of the Lao community when we were younger, and that’s a shame; my mom is a social creature and extrovert.
- Blake and I finally got married this past year, which we were planning on doing anyway, but … now I actually had an easy reason to tell people why my dad wasn’t present. Before, it was “My father has complex PTSD and can’t be around people” with a big, fat, loaded silence following it. “He’s dead,” is a much easier to digest and say reason, plus, no one wants to upset the bride the day of the wedding and bring up dead dad, right? (Sorry, this is my sense of humor and how I talk … dark and maybe a little blasphemous?) My sweet mama walked me down the aisle.
- As the day of the dead/Dia de los Muertos rolled around, I’d planned to read a letter to my dad at an open mic but ultimately that didn’t happen. It’s okay though – I wrote one to him anyway, and now it exists in the world and has helped me do some healing. My therapist was excited for me to take this major step (publicly announcing my father), but that will have to wait.
- What else did I accomplish? Finishing a podcast, The Untitled Dad Project, which for me is monumental. I’ve only finished listening to one audio book in my lifetime because I can’t stay focused on longer audio pieces.
- And last but not least, my partner and I started our small business, Good and Golden, which aims to share Lao food and culture (lookin’ for partners here!) with people who don’t know what or where Laos is!
And, I learned a little more about what forgiveness looks like for me.
I hope that he didn’t suffer
January 20, 2019 was the last day that I saw my father in-person at his care facility. My brother and sister went with me. We’d had brunch and mimosas. We pulled in, parked, and my brother and I shared a cigarette, while my sister climbed a nearby crepe myrtle. She gets her anxious energy out in weird ways; my brother and I have our own coping methods.
I noted the automatic sliding door, the decorated entryway, the fake plants, the office-like feel to the environment, and the front desk person greeted us, asking what we needed and who we were there to see. I was in family historian mode. “Nai Kettavong,” we said, as she searched up where he might be and on what floor. We got on an elevator.
“Oh no one ever visits Nai,” the staff person on the second floor responded. I cringed. The place didn’t feel real. It felt like a dream where you know that you’re asleep and intuitively, you know where you are and feel like you’ve been there before. This was the first time I’d ever stepped foot in this facility.
We were lead to my father’s room, and it was empty. I panicked a little inside.
“He might be watching TV in the common room,” our guide said, and we followed him, completely silent.
There he was. My dad. The man who I had feared for most of my life and felt some dutiful love towards as his daughter. He was alone. There were chairs here and there in the room and a lonely couch, a couple of small cafe-sized tables along the wall. At least there was a window, wall to wall, behind him. We pulled up a couple chairs to the round table that he was seated at, a walker nearby.
Playing on the television was some mundane show about wildlife or something that I didn’t particularly care about but was glad there was something for all of us to look at when we needed to look away from one another.
He looked so much grayer, pale, and older than I remembered. He had the same smile though, somewhat sheepish and shy. Perhaps he felt as if he were dreaming too. His children were actually there to see him. Chasms of guilt rippled through me.
“Do you remember me?” my sister asked.
“Yes,” he replied calmly.
I’d suspected that the language barrier between my father and staff contributed to my father’s diagnosis of early dementia. I would observe a little more closely, I thought to myself.
“How are you?” my brother asked. “I’m fine here. I get a little cold,” he responded.
Later, my brother would take the scarf that he was wearing and give it my dad because of the comment about being cold, which I’d notice in all of his photos in the years following. Our oldest sister would become his caretaker in Texas City, where he would be moved to in just a few months following this visit.
The conversation was slow. The three of us assessed the situation, asking questions here and there. Speaking Lao out loud to our estranged father was quite the task. And we were electrified by being in his presence again, I think.
I asked him if I could ask him some questions for a project that I was working on, and he said, “Go ahead, ask, and I’ll tell you everything.” That was the last time we spoke. I didn’t get to ask him any questions again.
Gray is how I feel when I think about this. Like hand torn paper pieces that have been mixed with water to become pulp and and then pressed, to live a different life. Lumps. Speckles. Wet. Shapeless until the next step. Amorphous and gray. Lacking any brightness, any warmth.
Recently, I realized that a confident sign that you have forgiven someone who abused and terrorized you and your family (even if it was their own family) is that you pray that they did not suffer during their last days. That hot, boiling rage that you used to feel when you cursed them into oblivion turns into just your body temperature as you sigh and think about them.
The ‘rona finally got me after two years of the pandemic, and it was days of body aches, fever dreams, sinus pressure, sneezing, coughing, and mucus. The first night, I rolled over and said to Blake, “I hope my dad didn’t suffer,” and tried to get a good cry out. It didn’t work. I finally cried typing “He was alone,” in the above paragraph.
It took another couple of days for me to think to myself, “Ah. Yes. I did the work. I have forgiven.”
My father died of COVID complications last year, and we still have not been able to take his ashes to his final resting place. For Lao folks, this is usually the temple in the community. I know that this is the case for too many at this point in the pandemic. I am so sorry.
It’s been nearly an entire year since I’ve published anything on this blog, and it somewhat symbolizes where I’ve been with my grief: in the in-between. Which, I suppose, is where we could say my father’s physical being is too.
If you are in the in-between, I will meet you where you are. If you need help, please let yourself shoot that text, make a call, send an email, or call an anonymous hotline. It’s worth it; you’re worth it.