My father’s loss


Today is the anniversary of my father’s passing. For those that know his legacy, while his life was short, his achievements were many and they live on. I have spent a lifetime hearing from so many different generations of people, some Egyptian and some not, who always say, “if your father had lived Egypt would be a different country today”. It never gets easier to hear.

I was just a young boy when he died. Because the years we spent together were few, my father didn’t teach me how to live, he lived, and for a short period let me watch him do it. His drive became my drive, his passion became my passion, his ethics became my ethics.

The anniversary of my father’s passing always brings back emotions that can only be best described as grief. Regardless of how many years pass, this day brings back the same level of sadness that never dissipates. Maybe it was because my father was so young when he died, I consistently feel he was cheated. My father’s career was cut short, he never saw his daughter marry, he never saw his grandchildren, he saw too few sunrises and sunsets. I was a little kid when my father died, and maybe because the news was so unexpected, the shock continues to reverberate. This day constantly brings back “referred pain”, and as the years pass, there has been no significant decline in my level of sadness.

The first time I ever wore a tie was at my father’s funeral. I never liked ties mostly as a result. I remember, at his funeral, when I saw his casket, I kept waiting for my father to break free of it somehow, or for this horrible dream to come to an end. The denial lasted for years.

I remember, a short while later, my mother taking one of my father’s blazers and trying to mend it for my brother for a function he was going to attend. I screamed at both of them and I remember saying, “what are you doing, my father will be very upset with the both of you when he gets home”. I guess denial is a shock absorber for the soul. It protects you until you are better equipped to cope with reality.

In retrospect, I am not sure that when a young child loses a parent, whether dressing them in fancy clothes and taking them to a funeral is a good idea. I would never do that to my own child. For me, all this did was create a hotbed of trauma, nightmares, and a feeling of fear that stayed with me for years. I started to fear that my mother too could pass unexpectedly and I began to cling to her as a result. The trauma of losing my father unexpectedly, not understanding the permanency of death, being so young, attending his funeral when I was ill prepared, left so many wounds. And, yes there are wounds that never show on the body, and that can be deeper, and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.

My father’s funeral so scarred me that it made it impossible for me to attend a funeral ever again. In fact, the only funeral I have ever attended in my lifetime was that of my father. In my previous job, my boss derided me for not attending the funeral of a beloved colleague. I simply was incapable of doing it; I cannot see grief without it becoming my own. My boss saw my absence as behavior that fell short for being “a senior leader” in the organization. He even cited my absence at my colleague’s funeral in my performance review for that year. I was never able to explain.

For all of you that lost a parent at a young age, you understand everything I’m describing like no one else. One memory that stuck with me after my father’s passing, was my first attempt at shaving. My mother noted that as I aged, I was beginning to carry a bit more facial hair that was not to her liking. She instructed me to shave. Having never shaved before, I purchased a razor, shaving cream, and walked out of the bathroom at my first attempt bleeding everywhere. My mother was perplexed. Every time I shaved, the outcome was the same, cuts and bruises, and lots of blood. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. That was until I saw a James Bond movie. Bond was shaving and began the process of getting his face wet, along with putting hot water on his shaving cream. I would just put the dry shaving cream on my hand, smear it on my face, then shave. My eureka moment was figuring out that moisture was a prerequisite. Two things are infinite: the universe and my own stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe. But, I guess there are very few people on this planet that can claim that James Bond taught them how to shave.

Of course, as I write these words, I have no intention of making the anniversary of my father’s passing about me. Year on year, on this day, I would write about him and only him. And, yes on this day, Egypt lost a pioneer. But, on this day as well, my family lost its anchor, my mother lost an amazing husband, my siblings and I lost a loving father, and they struggled to different degrees as a result.

The day my father passed will likely haunt me for a life time, and I am sure this holds true for my siblings, as it did for my mother. I guess to live is to be haunted by something or someone. And, how difficult it is when this haunting never ends.

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© Khaled F. Sherif, 2020

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