By Hannah Jo Uy
Losing a parent feels like being inducted into a club you never wanted to be a part of – you really can’t imagine what it would be like, no matter how much you tried to prepare yourself or to sympathise before. If I was being completely honest, a part of me never really thought I would lose my dad. My rational brain knew that we, being the sack of bones and flesh that we are, will one day turn to dust. But my childhood mind admonishes me, saying such things would never happen to my father. After all, he was always this big, towering presence that I would run to for everything from a glitchy computer to career advice. He was the one who could fix everything. Of course, he can fix this.
I consider it to be an exhibition of the universe’s profound wisdom that some of us became destined to care for our parents in the sunset of their life, the way they cared for us when we just entered this world. It always felt like a reality far into the future, but the truth is it sneaks up from behind you and smashes you in the head when you least expect it.
My last phone call with my dad happened at 8 pm the night before he passed. I was so tired from work that I felt my brain was fried. I remembered the time because I had second thoughts about calling since the time difference puts them at midnight, and I didn’t want to wake him. Usually, I would call earlier, but it was one of those exceptionally long days, filled with meetings and a thousand and one little things that just had to be finished.
In the months leading up to this final conversation, I called him every morning and every night. I started to dread these calls because I never knew how they would go. Sometimes they went well, and he was his usual funny, sarcastic, witty self, reminding me to stay cool. And I had hope that I would get my dad back, the dad I knew and grew up with. Other times, the pain and suffering his body was going through was palpable, and he was so tired and so mortal.
Still, the nurse said he was always happy to hear me, so I called. I don’t remember much of what we talked about. I just remember telling him he had to stay strong because I was due home in a week and that we would go to his favourite place for my birthday, this café by the lake. Those trips always perked him up. He said ok. And I told him I would talk to him tomorrow.
The next day he was gone. And the world, or at least my world, would never really be the same again.
The hours, days and months that followed became a blur. Even now, it still feels unreal. I keep replaying that last call. I think of whether I should have stayed on the line longer, or what I would have said if I knew it was the last time. Maybe I should have called earlier, I think to myself. More importantly, I shudder to think how I would have felt if I didn’t call him. I don’t even know what I was working on or what I was doing that made me so tired and lose track of time in the first place. Was it a presentation? Emails? A deadline? My mind draws a blank. All I know was that in the scheme of things, it didn’t matter because the only that mattered was that it was the last time I would hear the voice of the man that raised me, and from that day forward there will only be silence on the other end of the line. No more messages, no more stories, no more movies and exchanging songs. I will never see his name pop up again on my phone, where he tells me to go online because he had too much wine during his dinner and wanted to chat.
It’s so easy to get caught up in life, taking care of our work and the minute details of our existence, that we forget how fragile life actually is. How the people we love can be gone, without a moment’s notice, rendering the details we worry and stress over completely trivial. One of the biggest lies we tell ourselves is that we always have time. Maybe it’s hubris or denial because we just can’t accept how powerless we are in the face of fate and mortality, ours and those around us. In any case, our days can be so easily consumed by things we don’t even care about a month or two down the line. All the while, the chances we have to tell those closest to us how much we love them dwindle. Chances we can never get back.
So here is your reminder to make that call. Or text. Or send that message. Do it today. Do it now. Don’t wait until tomorrow. Because really, you will never know when it’s your last chance.