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Photo by Chandler Cruttenden/Unsplash

I'm Writing to Continue My Father's Legacy



The Death.

I had just finished a beach day with other graduate students in Southern California. When I got back to my car, I had a voicemail from my mom: “Call me back when you get this. Your dad is in the hospital.”


My dad was in a coma. He had collapsed at home eating dinner with my mom. The ambulance ride was at least 25 minutes long and his heart stopped along the way. At the end of the day, he had been internally bleeding and during the ambulance ride had not sustained enough oxygen to his brain.


I flew from California to Florida and arrived 24 hours after I got my mom’s call. My family started a rotation so that someone was always at his side. I took nights and read to my dad, in hopes he could hear my voice. When I wasn’t reading, I was researching what was happening in his brain and his body. The signs weren’t good. I saw him decline a day or two in a row.


At the end of the week, I told my mom we’d have to make the difficult decision to let him go. Even if he woke up, there was no chance he would be close to his former self.


It was Friday the 13th.


 

The Aftermath.

At that time, I was ending the fourth year in my Ph.D. program. Within a couple of weeks of his death, I flew home, completed my biannual committee meeting, moved out of my apartment to move in with my partner, and went to Washington, D.C. to start a two-month internship.


My mom had decided to postpone the funeral for another month.


The year after my dad’s death was bizarre. I went through weird situations where I wasn’t sure if a certain someone, someone who should have known, had remembered if my dad had died. I would find myself emotionally stoic and put together 95% of the time, but it was that last 5% that was totally unexpected and really embarrassing. Once, it was when my boss in D.C. asked me if I was doing okay in the office hallway. Another time, my partner brought up Interstellar over a restaurant dinner to make the case for why it’s not a sci-fi movie at heart, but rather a story about a father’s love for his daughter.


After the internship, I started the last year of finishing my Ph.D. Enough said. Somehow, I made it through. I honestly don’t have any tips for that time dealing with grief. Others have asked similar questions and I can’t say there’s a simple answer for those times. Just that you’ll get through it eventually.


I would find myself emotionally stoic and put together 95% of the time, but it was that last 5% that was totally unexpected and really embarrassing.

My mom didn’t fly out for my Ph.D. defense. She was still emotionally fragile and she video-conferenced in. Somehow I managed to hold it together during the traditionally sappy acknowledgments in my department. I really lost it attending my youngest sibling’s graduation though. Even though I was 25 when this happened, my youngest brother was just 21. I was pretty bummed out during commencement. My dad, the avid photographer, would have just loved taking as many photos as possible to commemorate the occasion.



Linh Anh and her dad in the 2010s.(Courtesy of Linh Anh Cat)

 


The New Beginning.

One day, my sibling told me they had decided to take up photography to feel closer to our dad because it was one of his hobbies. As the oldest, I admitted that was a good idea. A new place to grow.


What hobby of my dad’s could I take up? I had never thought of myself as being good at writing, but it was something my dad had really enjoyed, and he had never called himself a writer. Even better, he had turned it into a hobby that also brought in some extra cash.


I decided to try writing, and I first decided on writing for an indie blog on books (I love reading). I targeted opportunities that would be paid, in order to practice valuing myself and my work. Many grad students never experience or practice “knowing our worth”.