I was seven years old. We lived in a southern Mediterranean city in Turkey where it never snowed and there were almost no crimes, but my father would always pick me up from school. If you asked him why, he would say “Because why not?”.
He was always the first one to come but one afternoon he didn’t show up. All of my friends left with the school bus, the teachers were getting ready to take off but there was no sign of Abdullah. So I went to the principal and asked, “A big man with a big belly and gray hair was supposed to pick me up!”.
They already knew who my father was (Everyone knew him because he always had to make a scene of everything about us. We never took buses, never talked to strangers and when someone were to upset us, let’s just say my father wasn’t pleased with that.) so they called him up. He was going to be a little late but he was going to come. The principal told me to wait in his office but I went out even though it was very cold outside. I started to sing a song about a guy singing a song because it is frosty outside.
That was the first time I ever thought ‘What if my dad never comes?’ But he came. He took me to his arms, kissed me, turned me around a couple of times and put me in the car. We drove home singing the song together.
After that day I knew he was always going to come and get me when I felt cold or scared. Even if he was locked in a cell, behind bars and a hundred guards he would find a way to be there for me when I needed him. And he always did. Until one day he didn’t.
Fourteen years after the frosty song day, my father was diagnosed with a rare disease called Pulmonary Fibrosis. “Think of the lungs as a big old tree in Summer” said the doctor, “And think of all the damage Abdullah’s lungs got over the years as Autumn rain. The leaves are now falling down.”
The internet estimated that my father had more or less four years left to live. The doctor didn’t want to comment on it. My father denied it with all his power, and my sister and mother didn’t even take it seriously. But something inside me told me that the winter was even nearer than we thought.
On the last day of August we had a big fight over something so small that I don’t even remember now. Only four months had passed after he was diagnosed, but he was already at the stage of his illness that the doctor thought he would be in a few years. He couldn’t breath on his own anymore. He lost a lot of weight and became extremely emotional. That day, he started yelling at me for whatever reason and at the end I cracked. I had been trying to be understanding to him for months now, but I thought I had enough and I yelled back at him.
He looked at me with his big hazel eyes wide open and cried; “I am dying, don’t you see? I am dying.”
Hearing it out loud from him made me even angrier. “No, you are not, you are just being a spoiled old man, that’s what I see!” I said. He died within a week.
I was already back in Istanbul where I used to live when I got the call. The first plane going to my hometown was in the morning which meant six hours of waiting at home, at the airport, away from home, away from him. Numb – until the hostess smiled and said “Have a nice day!” when I was leaving the plane.
Have a nice day? My father just died and this woman is telling me to have a nice day? Is such a thing possible for me anymore? Wait, are these people really going to have a nice day? What is a nice day? Father, is this really happening? Where are you?
I couldn’t comprehend the idea of death that morning, maybe because I was feeling dead too and I did not know the difference between life and death anymore. Because I wanted to hold on to that Aleph. I thought, maybe, when people die they really do hang out in some sort of a purgatory for a while and maybe I was there too because there was no other explanation for what was going on.
After the funeral, over a hundred friends and strangers; people I didn’t know, people my father didn’t even like came home with us. Everyone was there except my father.
I was sitting in the balcony looking at the tree in front of our house wondering where my father was. All of a sudden I pictured him under the ground with worms and bugs and felt like I was about to lose my mind. But then a feeling, very strange, something like a miracle, came with the afternoon sun. I felt my father in that tree. I know you think I am crazy now. But wasn’t he a part of the earth now? Yes, I could definitely feel him there. I knew that if told it to anyone they would think that I had gone mad so I didn’t let them know where my father was.
It has been five years since he died. Five years that brought us closer and closer to each other. With each day that passed I understood him more and one day I realized he was alive. Not necessarily in that tree, but in me, with me, within me.
I was walking in the Assistens Cemetery in Copenhagen few months ago and suddenly I realized I have always been carrying a part of him in me. How could I not see this before? I carry the guys genes after all. And even if I didn’t, I spent twenty-one years with the guy. To think that I actually thought he was “gone”. What a stupid thought.
He is my father. He is the man who made me who I am with his genes, love, mistakes and death. He is the reason I have crazy eyes, speak loudly and live my life fully. And maybe, if any of those crazy myths like limbo and ghosts and stuff are real, he is the one that makes sure I find a way to travel and write even though the circumstances are never looking good. Because he lived to travel and he wanted me to become a writer. He believed in me even though he never read anything I wrote. One day, couple of months before he died, he said something very Turkish and cliché, like, out of an old movie, “Write your father’s story and say ‘He was an eagle once’”.
He was an eagle once. And now he is all the eagles in the sky. He is the sky. The air I breath in, the Earth I walk on. He is my good luck charm and probably my evil side. He is the reason I feel alive.
Accept the fact that your parents are going to die so that you can make the best of your earthly relationship with them. Don’t spend any second of it on anxiety. That won’t change anything. When the thought of losing them crosses your mind and darkens your heart, acknowledge it and move on, come back to your “here and now” and tell them you love them. Or tell them you hate them if that’s what you feel. Doesn’t matter really. This is life. And you will deal with their death when the time comes.
Don’t be afraid. You will not be alone. They will always be with you. No, you won’t forget them. No, you won’t forget their faces. You won’t forget their voices.
You will have weird dreams and days that you will be angry at them for not being there to take care of you or give you a hug but they won’t be as long and dramatic as you think. As you get older you will discover that they have left the best part of themselves with you anyway. You will start feeling your their presence within you more and more as years go by.
The best part is, when you feel alive, you will feel them living through you too.
I got a bit lost in Assistens that day while I was trying to find Søren Kierkegaard, but I found something very important in the park that was also a graveyard. As I looked at the squarrels playing on peoples graves and young mothers walking with their babies in their trolleys talking to their friends, lovers smiling and holding hands, I found out that the biggest reason that some of us can’t accept the reality of death is because we see it as a fixed end. Most of us put our dead to graveyards that we only go in to cry. We don’t even think that the living and the dead can coexist in a happy park.
Death is not the end of your relationship with your parents. It’s just a new chapter. And not necessarily a sad one, not completely anyways. It will get better, I promise.
Completely illustrated by SundayFamily
Nazli is a writer and dreamer based in Berlin. It’s very likely that you will run into her while she is writing in the train or reading at Spoken Word events around Rathaus Neukölln. If you live in a city far far away, you can read more of her stuff atrhnk.tumblr.com