A note: This post talks frankly about life and death.
This autumn my dad asked me to start a project with him. I suggested we write letters to each other based on how he used to write me cards as a kid. We’ve sent a few back and forth. It’s been beautifully healing.
We’ve both agreed to share them publicly. We feel it may bring some insight for others.
Below is a letter I wrote. My dad can no longer write me back.
More will come.
I took a trip yesterday, one I am unsure you would've approved. A dear friend gifted me a tab of acid, and I chewed the little piece of paper between my canine teeth around 12pm PT. It was exactly what I needed, something to alter things just enough to reveal a truth hidden under grief: just let it all go.
You let go of this realm on Saturday evening. It already feels like ages ago. I was speaking with you Saturday morning as you lay on your bed resting your eyes, and I could not bring myself to hang up the phone. John gently reminded me that hanging up was not final. I have you in these letters. I will always have you in these letters, and I can continue writing to you whenever I need you near. I need you near now.
I am ending 2020 with less than when I started. I think a lot of us are. COVID has changed everything, or at least COVID has changed me, and I cannot remain the person I was all the years from my birth until your death. There have already been a thousand variations of me, each with their own death, but this one feels significant and different. I need to really embrace what it means to let it all go. I know you are here to guide me. You are here in this letter as I type.
During my trip yesterday, a raven came to visit. He flew above my head and was constantly swooping in to take something away. When I was in the kitchen conjuring a spice blend, he picked out the anise because it was too bitter for his liking. He took a little bell I was gifted at last year's New Year's Day dim sum party hosted by my (chosen) family Kelly and Midori. He said it was because his nest needed new decorations for the new year. He, too, took a photo of you, one of the few that I have of us from when I was two. I didn't want to part with it because it keeps me connected to you. He told me to let it go. That he would help guide me the way you guide me. The first lesson is one I am still learning: how to let it go; how to let you go. I've never been a very good student.
Image description: An illustration of a raven flying with a full wingspan against a blue and foggy sky.
I am typing this letter on the same device I watched you breathe your last breath. I was stroking your arm on my screen, and it really was like I was there with you and mom and Travis and Samantha and Jonathon, who was also calling in on Zoom. Travis kissed you on the forehead for me and as he did so, I put my lips to the screen. I so wanted it to be warm to my lips. I had to let that go. There is a lot that I've had to let go; I don't know how much more there is left to let go of.
I moved to San Francisco on New Year's Eve 1997. The plane touched down around 11pm PT. I sat in the wrong seat and ended up sitting next two two men flying from Denver to San Francisco, who were coming to ring in the new year; their return flight was only 12 hours later. They invited me to join their merriment and ordered drinks for all three of us. By the time we landed, four cocktails were whirling in my head and belly. I greeted 1998 crying, drunk, and alone in an unknown city waiting for an ex-boyfriend, who turned out not to really be a friend at all.
Every new year I remember my first New Year's Eve, and each year I try to notice how I've grown and changed. Looking back this year on 23 years in San Francisco, I realize how much I've already had to let you go. San Francisco is now where I have lived longest; it is my home. And it came at a cost of being distant from you, mom, and my siblings.
I needed that distance to heal myself, though I didn't fully understand that at the time. I had to let go of who I was to discover who I am. What I did know was I wouldn't survive another winter; my depression was just too great. I also knew I couldn't tell you exactly how depressed I was. While we always felt things intensely, we never really talked about our emotions. Choosing to move to San Francisco on New Year's Eve was my way of cementing into the Gregorian calendar a willful act of separation, of letting go.
Image description: An illustration of me sitting on my dad’s lap at the age of two. We are both wearing white tops and are smiling.
This year, I will be starting 2021 without you physically here. It hurts knowing I cannot simply call you up and chat politics, one of the subjects which connected us deeply. I remember talking with you after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. I had attended Defund the Police rallies in San Francisco, and you just didn't get how defunding police would work. You asked, "how will we be safe?" I asked you if the police actually made you feel safe, and you took a moment to really reflect on the question and not just jump in with a predetermined response. You mentioned that your family and dear friends were cops and that as such you want the cops to be a symbol of safety. You continued, saying that if you really thought about it, though, no, cops don't keep us safe. In that moment, you taught me so much about grace in the face of the unknown. Here I was challenging you about one of your core beliefs while you were battling cancer, and you took the time to listen and consider what was being said.
To honor you as best I can, I must continue practicing letting go. I cannot hold onto things the way I think they are. Instead, I must carefully consider and then reconsider all. I must experience and witness things as they, simply, be.
In considering and reconsidering you, Dad, I experience and witness you here and now as I write this letter. You are as real and as physical as the image I have etched forevermore into my brain of Travis kissing you in my place while I kiss this screen. You may no longer be on this particular earth. But, as John pointed out as he hung up the phone for me, "This is not good-bye."
I am letting go of good-bye, Dad.
Instead, I look forward to talking soon for you exist and are real in this, and all, cosmos. You live because you are remembered. So cheers to remembering and letting go.
I love you so incredibly much,
Image description: A hand written poster of the phrase, “let it all go, even to saying good-bye.”