“Growing up, my life was simply a fairytale. I lived in a beautiful home, went to an amazing school, and traveled to exotic destinations. But the most important aspect of all was my family. My father was born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon and my mother was born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa. From a young age, I was taught the importance of family, culture, and respect. I admired my parents so intensely. I looked at them like they were everything, and to this day they still are.
My parents met in Cape Town when my father was on his first engineering job in the field. My mother happened to be working her first job as a receptionist at the engineering firm when my father walked in on his first day to grab his mail for the week. He asked her to play tennis and the rest is history. 4 kids and 30 years later, my parents created a beautiful life together.
I have never seen anybody in the world who loves that amazing man more than my mother. Those two together are more than best friends. They have a way of talking to each other, that even after 30 years of marriage and four kids, they were so gentle and respectful with one another. There was so much raw happiness just being by each other’s side. The two of them sitting together having coffee in the morning and tea at night is like a portrait in my mind. You can’t have one without the other. I learned so much from their love. I learned what true love really is and came to understand what a man really is. My father was my mother’s soulmate, but in a way, he was mine too.
From the time I was a little girl, my father always instilled in me a sense of confidence I didn’t naturally have. He would look at me and say, ‘You know you are the most beautiful girl in the entire world, my girl. Literally the cutest ever.’ He would say that or a variation of it constantly, to a point where I would genuinely believe it. He would look at me and say, ‘You know you are my girl, right? My girl,’ and point at himself. You had no choice but to smile and be so proud to be HIS girl.
Somedays, I would go to school and feel self-conscious, but then hear my father’s voice ringing in the back of my head and be instantly soothed. He had a way with words that almost felt angelic. He was an angel on earth. He helped people to a fault and if he couldn’t help them in their circumstances, he would help them in their emotions. He always had a way to bring positivity to people and make them laugh. He was so bright.
The past two years of my life have been an absolute whirlwind. December 22, 2018, is the difference between who I was and who I am.
You know when you are watching a movie and you know it’s too good to be true, like something bad is going to happen soon. This is how I felt the day before my father passed away. My day was too perfect, too good. I remember turning to my boyfriend and literally saying, ‘This day feels too good to be true, nothing has gone wrong.’ Boy, was I in for a wild ride…
The night of my father’s death is something I cannot put into words. It’s the most traumatic moment of my life that replays in the back of my mind. I often think to myself, ‘Did that really happen?’ Walking out of the hospital to get home as the sun rose, still in the same pajamas, I went to bed with one of the eeriest, disgusting, and most mortifying feelings I have ever felt in my entire life. I was tasked to call loved ones and notify them about what had transpired those few hours prior. I fully blacked out recalling the same story over and over and over to more than one hundred people.
My father was sick, but he was not sick enough to where we thought he was going to die. His death was not only a shock to my family, but it was a shock to every single person I spoke to.
My mother, my two sisters, and my brother, only 9 years old at the time of my father’s death, had to start navigating life without our glue. My father was our leader. He was the loudest man in the room at every party. He was the first person to start the karaoke machine, give his two cents on your outfit or haircut, and pick the movie for the night. He simply was the best; nothing like the rest. He was his happiest when he was with us. It was like he didn’t need anything else but us. He gave us his unconditional love. Some people would even tell us we were one person, the 6 of us. So much love, so many inside jokes, so much understanding of each other and unrelenting love for each other. There wasn’t a couch too small to sit the six of us.
Navigating our new normal was something so foreign, uncomfortable, and cold. Those first few months were like throwing us to the hyenas. I became not only a second mother to my siblings but a shoulder to cry on for my mother. I fit into a new role that I never knew I could manage. Meanwhile, where could I go? I had to be the rock for my entire family. The first 6 months were absolute chaos emotionally.
Nobody gives you a grief handbook, especially at 21 years old. What do you do when your dad dies unexpectedly? What do you say to a 9-year-old about death? Do you speak of your dead father in the present or past tense? What do you say to the lady at the cash register when she asks you, ‘What are you doing for Father’s Day this year?’ How do you respond to your professor when he asks what your father’s profession is? Do you send your 9-yearold brother to Father’s Day crafts? These are all things nobody teaches you, but somehow, we got through the first year.
Grief is a personal journey and no matter what people say to you, it’s something every person must get through on their own. It’s never something to ‘get over,’ it’s something to get through. Grief comes in waves and it can be triggered at the most interesting times. For example, my father is Lebanese, and in the Lebanese culture, people are supposed to come over for about a week to give their condolences for your loss. Since my father’s loss was so sudden and so unexpected, people were showing up right when we got home from the hospital in our pajamas from the night before.
We had no time to relax, change our clothes, or just cry by ourselves! I remember just feeling numb. I felt like I wasn’t even sad. I didn’t even feel anything. I remember some of my friends showed up. I could tell they were almost shocked I wasn’t more hysterical. A few months later, my boyfriend decided to try a sample of cologne that he picked at the mall. He sprayed it in the air and I immediately stopped in my tracks and froze.
It was my dad’s cologne.
I had an immediate panic attack, cried uncontrollably, and let all my emotions out. Safe to say, he did not wear that cologne again…
In life, things change and that has been the hardest part of my family’s grief. But what we have learned is that things don’t have to be the same to feel okay. My father has not left us and that has been shown in the blessings he has given us since his passing. Our loved ones do not leave us, they are just with us in a different way.
And when I’m feeling down or self-conscious, I can still hear his voice ringing in my head.
Cheers to the greatest man in the world
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Chloe Zakhour of Orange County, California. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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