The Most Difficult Journey

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The following is a guest post from Christina Engel.  Christina is a full-time paralegal, wife and mom. Her daughter Mollie was born in 2008, and her son Jacob was born 15 months later in 2009. She was born, raised and still lives in Wethersfield and absolutely loves her town and the people who call it their home. Christina married a fellow WHS ’94 graduate (although they didn’t date until after college – long story!) in 2003, and her husband John is one of the few things that keeps her sane in her crazy life. In her (very infrequent) downtime, Christina enjoys bootcamps, yoga, reading, and vegging out on mind numbing reality TV.

My dad died on Christmas Eve (still surreal to write/say those words). I watched him take his final breath, put my hand on his heart after a minute, aaaand then he took another breath and scared the shit out of me. He was always a jokester with a demented sense of humor, and I swear that was his final joke on his way out. My stepmom, brother and I had a good laugh. And then he really took his final breath. It’s not like what you see in the movies. There wasn’t a big inhale, and a big dramatic exhale where everyone just KNEW that was it. We only knew after a few minutes had passed and another breath didn’t follow. After sitting by his bedside on and off for the past three weeks, it was over. And then what? Of course, there were tears but not as many as I expected from myself. I think we were all numb. My stepmom got up to start making calls, and my brother and I sat on either side of my dad’s bed chatting, until we realized that was really weird and moved to another room. Because it was Christmas Eve, I left shortly after he passed to get home to my family. I kissed him goodbye, knowing I’d never see him again. His smell had changed over the past few weeks, but in that moment, kissing his forehead, he smelled like HIM. It was an agonizing comfort. At the time, it was impossible to grasp the finality – that I would never again get a big dad hug from him, never hear his voice calling me “Chrissy”, never see his goofy smile or the twinkle in his blue eyes.

I got in my car shortly after, drove the two hours home and almost immediately started wrapping presents. It was the most surreal experience. I had to completely switch gears for the benefit of my children. Christmas was fairly quiet, as were the following couple of weeks until we had a Celebration of Life for him. It was beautiful and perfect and just what he would have wanted. We told stories of what a quirky, wonderful person he was, read poems, prayers, listened to songs, and then ate, drank and socialized. It was a party he would have loved to be at, schmoozing with all the guests. And then it ended, we packed up and went home…to what?

I knew losing him would be hard, and I felt like I was somewhat prepared since we had quite a bit of time to steel ourselves against the loss, but I truly had no idea what I was in for. Last night, I watched a video of him from a few years ago, giving a toast to his family, thanking us for all our support throughout his long cancer battle. Seeing him and hearing his voice was my undoing. I sobbed for hours and was left feeling completely drained and exhausted.

Now I realize I was not at all prepared for this and am finding it extremely difficult to navigate this journey. I want to be positive and live a happy life as a tribute to him and all the strength he’s shown. But I also want to curl up in a ball and watch cheesy reality TV for hours while neglecting all of my responsibilities. I want to take my family on wonderful adventures and vacations. Carpe diem! But I also want to stay home, snuggle, watch movies and read. I want to get back to the gym and honor this healthy body I have, meal prep, and finally lose these extra pounds. But I also want to lie on the couch and eat cookie dough by the spoonful. I want to work on relationships that have faltered in the past few years. Life is too short to not make amends. But I also want to respect myself enough to only have healthy relationships and not let people disrespect and hurt me.

Sooo…that’s where I’m at. From what I’ve been told, grief is a journey, and you have to just do what feels right in the moment. But what if nothing feels right, and you just want to crawl out of your skin? I’m still learning, and I’m sure I will be for months and years to come. What I do know though is that my dad fought cancer with everything he had for a span of 12 years. I need to have that same fight in making sure I live the best possible life I can with the people that love and support me. I want to make him proud.

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