How Do I Deal with Losing My Father?

Nancy's hand holds up a vintage polaroid of her dad outside playing a guitar. It's held outside in front of an evergreen bush.

How Do I Deal with Losing My Father?

It’s only been 19 days since my dad left this world. Yet, when I try to think of the date, my mind is cluttered, and it eludes me.

And, I’m good with remembering dates, really good.

It’s almost as if my mind doesn’t want to accept it and acknowledge that it’s actually happened.

It literally took my breath away, I hunched over, stunned, inhaled deep, and it feels like I’ve been living in between deep breaths since.

His passing was not unexpected.

In fact, it’s something we knew would come to pass, but we just held on to hope for more time.

More time to make memories, more time to have conversations, more time to laugh, more time to love, more time to embrace, more time to see each other grow—just more time.

In our culture, we don’t really talk about these things. Let alone write about them.

To be honest, I debated sharing online. Sharing online and grieving online is so brief while grieving in real life is non-stop. It’s non-linear and changes from second to second. You think about your loved ones, that they’re gone, and then for the very passing moment you forget, you are reminded again, and the grief creeps back in.

For me, writing has always been cathartic, and my dad always supported it. I know he would take the time to read every word of this if he could.

My dad was full of life.

We called him patachucho (feet of the dog) because he was always out and about. He went out with us whenever we invited him, which was often. We went shopping weekly, for errands, to doctor’s appointments, vacations, weekend getaways, or just because.

He loved to experience new things and was always up to travel with us on our many adventures. I’ll miss our weekly Chipotle dinner dates or trying out restaurants that were little holes in the wall.

Francisco Polanco and Milagro look at each other after their civil marriage ceremony.

If you’re a long-time reader, you’ll know that my parents immigrated here and left behind their whole life and family to give us a better chance.

I think back at that decision and imagine it was one of the hardest decisions they’ve ever made. They didn’t do it because they wanted to but because they had to.

For their love for us and to keep us safe.

Dad was a gifted elementary school teacher and a masterful musician, too. He combined both to teach kids in a fun and interactive way, and his students loved him. Every day, his students would be waiting to greet him at the gate with hugs and offers to carry his bag and guitar for him.

To describe the type of father he was would be a monumental task. Yet, I am going to give it my best try.

He would always be there and would fight to the ends of the earth for his loved ones.

A testament to that was during the 1986 earthquake of San Salvador. It was a 5.7 magnitude earthquake that resulted in 3,000 deaths and over 10,000 injuries.

My brother and sister went to separate all-boys and all-girls schools located about a block apart. When the earthquake hit, school was in session. At the time, he wasn’t working at a school and was at home with his parents.

He immediately left the house and headed to my brother’s school.

He saw buildings reduced to rubble, cars being swallowed up by the earth with and without people in them, unforgettable things, but he trekked through the city with the ground moving beneath his feet to get to my brother and sister.

On his way, he found a small child, alone and terrified. He picked her up and brought her with him. He went to the school and the only one missing in the headcount was my brother. I can’t even imagine the pain he must have felt then, expecting the worse.

Defeated, he headed to my sister’s school, and when he arrived, he saw my brother embracing my sister. My brother had left his school by himself to get to my sister. At nine years old, he took it upon himself to do that. It’s something we always tease my brother about. He’s always been way beyond his years in wisdom.

Dad left the little girl with the teachers and was now joined with his kids. I can’t imagine the relief he must have felt.

Being a parent now, I completely understand it.

Father and daughter sit together. Daughter takes off her new shoes.

While you don’t have to traverse through an earthquake to be a great parent, it’s being there in the big as well as the little ways that make you one.

Whether it was to help me feel better when I was sick, to picking up my girls from school, to taking my sister’s car for an oil change, and making sure her fluids were topped off. Just making sure we were always okay and taken care of.

To just being there.

For every event, milestone, walking me down the aisle, first days, last days, good days, bad days, and to encourage us every step of the way.

I’ll never forget our memories in Michigan together. Even if he didn’t celebrate holidays, we would enjoy the twinkling of Christmas lights together every year. He always said that the multi-colored lights made him happy but a little melancholy for home too.

Milagro smiles and watches her husband play the guitar outside at Tecumseh Park.

Dad loved my mom for nearly 50 years.

I saw how much he loved her and how he talked about her with the same affection he felt when they were young. I loved the way he would still go breathless looking into her eyes.

My mom reciprocated that same love.

A love that is beyond passion and one that is truly unconditional. My mother, Milagro, is an incredible woman, and just as much as my dad is a great father, she is equally a mother.

Recently, a good friend told me that grief and losing a loved one is a club that no one wants to be a part of, but those in it get it.

I’m so fresh into it, and I am still learning, maybe not even that yet, but I’m trying to find the strength even to imagine living the rest of my life without him.

Francisco in front of Niagara Falls, Nancy is the bottom right corner.

He was my person.

I could talk to him about literally anything. We would chat about topics that were taboo in our culture. Then share true stories that happened in both of our lives.

Even if we had differing opinions due to a generational difference, he was always willing to listen to my views. He told me he admired my will to fight for inequality, and I loved him so much for that.

My pops loved all of me, my sassiness, my willingness to stand up. He always admired that part of me, but, he didn’t realize that I learned it from him.

Through my successes, mistakes, and failures, he loved me all the same.

He was an incredible grandfather.

He was there for every first day of school, every sports game, track meets, school plays—you name it. Of course, dad was there for the not-so-fun stuff, too, like pick-up and drop-offs. It helped me immensely, and he did it with joy.

Tata or Abuelito is what the girls called him.

He taught them the basics to learn to read and basic math to be prepared before they went to school. As well as practicing Spanish with them as much as they’d allow.

He even taught Gabby how to ride a bike and, of course, taught her how to play guitar. He started teaching Mimi but, due to his health, couldn’t continue.

Dad sitting with me at one of my fave cafes.

Whenever I needed advice, I’d call him or take him to one of my hipster dive cafes, and he’d always go. He was always fair, straightforward, and caring when giving advice.

These last five years progressively got harder, but Dad lived so much life in them. He surpassed all health odds and doctor expectations right until the very end. He had a strength that I’ve never seen before, and I only hope to emulate it in his honor.

I’m grateful that I could be there for him just as he would be there for me.

Just like him, I’d go to the ends of the earth for the ones I love.

Currently, my days are spent trying to keep my mind busy while harboring a fear of forgetting, and I never want to forget.

What remains are the memories, so many beautiful memories that are left behind to look back on.

Francisco, Nancy's father, hold her on his shoulder at the beach.

I’ll always remember my strong papa, who carried me on his shoulders during the carefree days of my youth. I can still feel the summer breeze in my hair while he carried me to the beach at Mitchell’s Bay.

With complete trust, I would look down and touch his full head of jet black hair, and I felt like I was on top of the world.

As a child, I remember hearing him sing in the shower and then the sound of the blow dryer. Then, when it would shut off, I’d go see him because I knew he was going to shave. I remember calling his stubble “pickies,” and he always let me touch them and then his smooth face afterward.

I am grateful for the strong arms that linked with mine when he finally trusted another man enough to take care of me, and he proudly walked me down the aisle.

Those somehow soft and gentle hands played the strings of his guitar beautifully since he was a teenager and built metal machine parts.

Those hands that wiped away my tears when I had a broken heart, the ones that held my tearful face and reminded me of my worth.

His strong chest that I’d rest my head on was the safest place in the world.

Dad in a boxer stance.

If I was lost, he’d find me.

He wore many hats during his life, and he was good at so many things. A one-time semi-pro welterweight boxer, an intermediate carpenter and electrician, and a machinist.

He was always willing and happy to share his knowledge. There are many things he passed on to people beyond his family.

Dad was known for his guitar playing. So, at every gathering, his friends would ask him to bring along his guitar, he always obliged.

Every birthday my girls celebrated, he strummed his guitar and sang Happy Birthday and Feliz Cumpleaños to them.

He passed on his musical knowledge to many guitar students, too.

Knowing that he lives on through them makes me happy.

I am beyond grateful to have spent a few years in my 20s in his band, Sabor Latino and Meneo. Singing, and playing gigs. We did weddings, events, and club nights.

I look back so fondly on that time, and when he played Santana or sang a ballad, I’d watch in awe and be so proud.

Since my time in the band, I’d hear songs we sang together on stage (and we would sing them in the car together), it always warmed my heart.

Fast forward to today, I haven’t had the strength to listen to them. Though, I know one day again, I’ll be able to listen to them fondly and remember his voice harmonizing with mine.

Dad at Niagara Falls in 2019.

I miss him.

It’s beyond words to describe how much. I dread the silence, and I miss hearing his calm voice or hearing his guitar and his songs echoing the house.

Or walking in and finding him at the table with a headlamp on. I’d smile because I could see his salt and pepper hair with a whisp of solid white at the front peeking through. He was always tinkering on a new leather project or fixing something.

I miss hearing his voicemails and reading his adorable text with the most appropriate emojis. Or when he’d excitedly send me links to a new song or artist he really liked. That, or when he’d send me funny videos of cats afraid of cucumbers or birds that had a spicy vocabulary.

I keep expecting him to walk through the door and hear the sound of his jingling keys and the rattle of the chain that held his wallet and hear him shout out a silly greeting.

For now, and for him, I am going to try to live as healthy as possible.

To someday live a happy life again for him.

I’m no expert at grief. I am learning as I go, but there are a few things that I’ve learned through this process so far.

  1. Tell your loved ones that you love them, tell them often. Tell them what they mean to you.
  2. Talk about life and death, it’s important. Forget the superstitions and don’t leave anything left unsaid.
  3. Be kind to everyone you meet. You really don’t know what they are going through silently.
  4. Reach out to friends or family, I am grateful for mine.
  5. If you aren’t ready, check out support pages online. I’ve read some useful articles on My Grief.
  6. Remember your loved one and celebrate them when you feel ready to.
Francisco stands with his kids. Frank, Susana, and Nancy. The girls are being sassy.

It comes in waves.

What they don’t tell you about grief is that it varies for everyone. They don’t tell you that you will feel numb.

It ebbs and flows, sometimes it comes on like a tsunami.

You may feel guilt, but you have to make peace with it.

I always feel like I could have done more, but, I know deep in my heart, I did everything humanly possible (as did our family) for him, and I’d do it again.

You’ll also find peace and solace in small things.

Like when I hear my brother’s voice and hear his, when my sister does something silly like he used to, when Mimi shows me a drawing, and I can see she used a technique he taught her, or when I see Gabby strum her guitar.

Grandpa walks down the beach with Mimi. It was an amazing day.

So, how do I deal with losing my father?

From the moment that I knew my dad was no longer with us, it feels like I am holding onto that initial deep inhale that was so utterly painful to exhale.

I know that I will have to live with this for the rest of my days.

Some days are heavy.

They quite literally feel physically heavy in my chest. I’m withdrawn and sad. Sometimes something triggers it, a song, a smell, even a habit that he taught me, and sometimes it takes nothing at all.

With that said, there is still so little I know, but I know that my dad would want me to keep moving forward.

However painful that is, that is what I am going to do.

Second by second, minute by minute, day by day, and beyond.

I will keep him alive in my memory, through the love that I show, and the lessons that I pass on.

My family and I would like to thank every single person who sent their condolences and sympathies, flowers, and cards.

They truly provided comfort during the hardest moments.

Before this, I never knew what it was like to walk around living with such loss. I know that now. As I mentioned, I am no expert, but please reach out if you ever feel like you need to talk to someone.

I don’t know how I would have made it these last 19 days without the help of those who carry grief too.

How do you cope with losing your father or a loved one?

Please share below.

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24 Comments

  1. I am so sorry for your loss. I wish I had some advice but I haven’t lost a parent yet. I think keeping him alive with your memories is a wonderful thing. This post was beautiful.

  2. I can’t imagine losing my father. I know it will happen one day, but I just can’t wrap my head around it.

  3. I can’t imagine losing a parent since I have not. I can say when I lost my grandmother it still comes in waves.

  4. Coping with the loss of a Father or a family member may be one of the hardest challenges that many of us face. I cannot describe how painful it is but thanks for sharing your emotions. Its a great way to cope with grief.

  5. I have lost a loved one too and I can relate to this. One thing is for sure, the sadness and pain diminishes as time passes.

  6. I’m so sorry to hear about your father, I know your father is happy now and resting in peace. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  7. Oh, Nancy. Thank you for sharing such a deep and personal post with us. I think I held my breath the hold time I read it. I am sorry for you and the loss of your father. That is such a huge loss but I am thankful to have been able to read all about your father. You are in my prayers and thoughts while you grieve. Time will heal, but he will always be in your heart.

  8. I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your father Nancy. I am sitting here in a puddle of tears with a huge lump in my throat after reading your post. Possibly partly because you wrote it so well, partly because although I still have my Dad he will be 75 this year and I don’t know how many more years we have together. He isn’t sick, I just know our parents don’t last forever.
    You have many memories that I have from when I grew up with my Dad. Although my Dad isn’t one to text very much lol. Honestly, I think my Mom does it most of the time.
    Your Father sounds like he was the BEST Father a girl could ask for. You are one lucky girl! Treasure all of your memories! You are very blessed to have all that you do. I am also so happy you have photos to look back on. Sending love and many prayers to you. xox

    1. Thank you so much for all of your kind words. You sound like you have great parents too, they are truly treasures we do not get to keep. He really was the BEST father I could have asked for. I miss him terribly.

  9. It sounds like your father was a wonderful man and had a big impact on your life. That is wonderful that he was really there for you.

  10. I completely agree with your friend that no one wants to join this club! I am so sorry for your loss, dear. I can’t even imagine my life without my dad. He was hospitalized in December last year, and I literally fought with God to bring him back from that critical condition! I don’t have any words but would like to say that your father is really proud of you ❤️

  11. Sorry for your loss. He was an amazing man! It won’t be the same, thank God for all those beautiful memories you had.

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