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My Dad Died and I Didn't Know


When I was five years old my dad died of cancer when he was just 35. I didn't learn this until I was an adult. I looked for my father well into my twenties. It was always a mystery. I had no information to go off of and no one would help me put the puzzle pieces together because they refused or just didn't know.


I tried every avenue I could think of to locate him but nothing was working. There was no way of finding him he was a ghost. Then one day in the search I started to look for other people's names since his didn't get me very far. The name Elizabeth came up. Elizabeth is my middle name. It wasn't a coincidence.


My father's mother, my grandmother was named Elizabeth. Her number was listed and it said she lived across the bridge in Queens. I furiously dialed that number. I knew I was going to finally get the answers I had desperately been searching for. An elderly man answered the phone. I asked to speak to Elizabeth but she had passed away years ago. I asked the man if he had a son named Steven. He said he did but that he had also died many years ago.


I started to cry uncontrollably. My grandfather didn't know it but he had just informed me of my father's death. He told me he died in the 90s. I asked if I could come over and meet him because I am his grand daughter.


He said of course I could but that the weather might be too bad to travel in. It stormed that night. It was late June in 2018. I was nervous but determined to get answers so I went in the pouring rain. In fact I didn't even initially believe that my dad died. I thought maybe my grandpa was misinformed. And I held on to that theory for months. I didn't want to believe that I would never get the opportunity to meet my own father. I felt cheated.


Getting information from my new grandpa was very difficult. He didn't really remember much and what he did remember was too painful for him to talk about. But one day he gave me a few of my father's belongings. He had kept a notebook while he was in the hospital. He wrote nearly everyday believing he would survive and go back to his old life eventually. He never did. I read the notebook in one sitting. It was one of the most heart wrenching experiences of my life. My father talked about his fear of death, his regrets, his feelings towards his family and the things he knew he'd never get to accomplish. He wrote about sneaking out of the hospital and going to feed his cat Cleo. He wrote about the agonizing pain he was in and his hate for the hospital he would die in.


I have cried many times over him and his words. He like me was able to organize his thoughts through writing. I saw my first picture of him when I was 25 years old. I thought he was ugly and I was mad at him because I blamed him for my own ugliness. He gave me bad skin, stringy hair and crooked teeth. Why did he leave me with all the bad stuff?


I know now it wasn't his choice. He was taken and that was that. I found out he died while I was at work. I left the office that day and didn't come back. The next morning I cried at my desk, in the copy room, in the women's bathroom and on the street. No body knew why. I couldn't explain why I was so upset. It's not like they would be able to understand. I didn't get bereavement from work. No one told me they were sorry for my loss and when I told my family they had nothing to say. The subject never again came up.


I carry my father with me because his life was cut short unfairly. I feel like it's my duty to live both of our lives now. It rained so hard the day I was told he was gone. I think he was crying with me. We were finally reunited in the strangest of ways. My mom later admitted he had insisted my middle name be Elizabeth. It's the only way I was able to find him. That name was the clue I needed. It was the missing puzzle piece.


A lot of people don't understand why I let his death affect me all these years later. My dad didn't die in the 90's. To me he died when I picked up that phone and called that number expecting to finally hear his voice. I'm writing about it today because I refuse to let him fade from my memory or let anyone tell me his death just doesn't matter as much because we never met. I have his blood coursing through my veins. I have his writing ability. I have his sensitivity. I have his genetics. I have his eyes. For better or worse I have his oily skin. I am his daughter. And no one will ever tell me it's just not the same. So please be kind to your friends who had to grieve on their own because they had no other choice. I was cheated out of knowing him, but I refuse to be cheated out of grieving him.


RIP Steve, I mean Dad.


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