I remember going through the security line, my shoulders shaking. My arms were up in the body scanner and I tried not to move, but the tears continued to stream down my face. The security person patted me down and asked me what was wrong. Between sobs, I answered “My… dad… just… died…”
A quiet ensued among the workers as I haphazardly grabbed my things and scrambled to put my boots back on.
That flight is probably one of the only flights I have never wanted to take in my life. I sat for hours and absorbed all that it meant. This is never the homecoming you dream of. What did he think in his last moments? Did he know he was dying? Did he fight to stay alive?
“Is this real?” I had asked my sister. Choosing New York felt like I had chosen to not be there in that same ER room that night. I closed my eyes, but I never woke up from the nightmare. I was always jolted awake to the sight of the same seat back tray table.
I had worn a cap to cover my puffy eyes, but that didn’t stop the tears from coming. It felt like one of the longest flights I would ever take, and the treachery of the inertia, the inability to go back, move forward, or do anything even, haunted me every minute.
And then, there I was--the word the same but the feeling different--home.
Talking about the circumstances of my dad's sudden death quickly became something that I could easily talk about without bursting into tears. Trust me, in the first couple days, I was not far from bursting into tears at any moment. The fact of the matter is that it was easier to talk about the logistics of how he died instead of how it actually impacted me. It probably also weirdly helped that I overheard my mother tell the story so many times to the countless people who rang her phone (or my dad's phone) sharing their condolences. Even so, stating facts does not automatically mean that I easily accepted things to be true.
A little while after hearing the news someone reached out to me and mentioned that people my age have never experienced the loss of a parent so they just “didn’t get it”. While that may be true, I don’t think it’s impossible to feel empathy. When I say empathy, I don’t mean pity. I mean the ability to garner an understanding of loss and why its complexity affects the way I, and others who have experienced grief, interact with the world, for better or worse.
If you came to this blog expecting to find out how my dad passed away, then you've come to the wrong place (though if you're curious to learn more about it, I would recommend you listen to our sibling podcast, Growing Up Nguyen). Rather, I am documenting who I was and who I came to be since my dad's death and why. In my short stories, I hope to unravel the mystery of what losing a loved one can look like and remind myself that there is no right way to handle grief.
Hedda Hieu Nguyen