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“It was kind of good that you didn’t feel the death of your father”

Silvia Amelia de Araújo, a journalist, was only 2 years old when her father died. Unlike the older siblings, she did not immediately understand the news about the death, but as she explains in this exhilarating account, she felt the absence so strongly that grieving ended up being part of the formation of her identity

Image: Danielle MacInnes / Unsplash

I’m not good at keeping birthdays. I’ve forgotten about almost all the people I love. But I do not forget my father’s birthday. The only one I’ve ever celebrated.

My father died at age of 37. From a fatal heart attack. On a Christmas morning. I was about to turn two. So I do not remember him.

I’ve heard about him from some people, “It was good that you did not feel the death of your father,” referring to my brothers being older, 9 and 11 years old, and having been able to immediately understand the news of our father’s death and I do not.

Now imagine a very small child who loves her father because at that age she already knows how to love. And before we understand death, we understand the disappearance. So for me, at that age, that was it, my father I loved, disappeared. This father who had the habit of traveling to work one day went and did not come back. He did not arrive for our traditional car ride around block. We moved immediately from home and city. At the same time everyone around was extremely sad, mainly my mother. Of course I felt his death. Understanding and feeling are different things though. To this day, almost with the same age my father was, I cry his death. The closer I get to 37, the more I get the sense of the short time he’s been around. I look at my brothers, already older than my father and I see that they are still young. That gives me the dimension of the tragedy that his sudden death was.

My mother says that months after my father died I found a photo of a bearded man in the newspaper and I stood admiring “oh, oh, oh” without saying anything else, like saying “look here, it’s him, I finally found him”. My Uncle Décio, who looked so much like him, came to visit us and, my mother tells me, when I saw him at the gate, I stood up euphorically! My uncle realized that I was confusing him with my father and went home, crying.

Grief was part of my identity. Ever since I’m aware of myself, I’m an orphan girl. In my earliest recollections I hear the whispers around me “poor girl, she does not have a father, her father has died”.

Some distant relatives, who almost never meet my family, when they see me, they use a funny expression: “She is the little baby”. It’s just that I’ve been on everyone’s mind like the orphan baby, everyone saw when they came to my father’s funeral and they say was the saddest day in the world. Sad that he was young, sad that he had three young children, the oldest with a mental illness. Sad because he and my mother were in love and because he lived a moment of prosperity at work. Sad because it was Christmas day. Just sad.

Every Christmas I count the time of his death, every October 20 I think of how old he would be. And I think about how my life would have been with him. How it would be if he were here now. My mother says I took after him this thing about being affectionate with people. Would we, two affectionate ones, be hugging all the time?

Would I have any joke with him like pulling his mustache or squeezing his belly? Exclusive nicknames? Would we argue too much? What would he think of the political situation in Brazil? What would it be like to have seen the World Cups with him? Would we have lots of beers together? And in what movies would I have taken him with me? And what would he think of me marrying a man form the movies? What kind of grandfather would he be for Francisco and Ana Clara, my sister’s children? And for the children I have not yet had?

Sometimes when I’m sad, with low self-esteem, I think my dad would say something good to me, in a way that is perhaps exaggerated and funny. He would say that I am beautiful even when other people are suggesting me to lose weight, for example. He would believe that I have talent. And hug me very strong. I fantasize that good life with him. We can add to this that my father was a nice, charismatic and generous guy. People remember him with a lot of affection, with bright eyes. Several men have already told me, “Your father was the best friend I ever had.”

That was the legacy he left me. I try to be a good friend to my friends. Losing a young father also makes me very aware that death exists and it can come at any time. Even in the happiest moment of your life.

The example of love and companionship between him and my mother still remained for me. But I cannot fantasize that he sees me now. I cannot do this. This is a way to comfort us. From where he is, he can see you. I cannot believe it. I would like it very much. But I only think that I lost my father, I missed the chance to know him, to know his faults, to have something to complain about, to have stories with him to remember.

My sister, as a child, asked in the catechism class how it would be to die old and reach heaven and find the young father. The catechist said that the soul had no age or appearance.

If heaven exists, maybe one day we’ll hug and celebrate a birthday together. I hope souls can hug each other.

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