About a month into summer break after my freshman year of college, I went to the mall with a couple of friends. At the end of the day, my father picked me up on his way home from work, and I showed him the dress I had gotten on sale. Five months after that, I wore that dress to his funeral. As the first anniversary of his death approaches, I wanted to write a small reflection of some of the things I’ve learned in the time he has been gone.
One of the first things I learned, even before he passed away, was how impossible it can be to accept what is happening to you. The first time I went to see him at the hospital, I was in denial, staring blankly at the monitor that showed the stats of all patients in the ICU. When a nurse asked me what was wrong, I told her, “This is not happening to my father. This is a bad dream.”
It was only later, when I notified Student Outreach and Support that I was going to need to take a leave of absence, that I understood that this was actually my life. It’s also difficult, and oftentimes upsetting, to accept that the world is carrying on as it feels like yours is ending. Sometimes it’s more difficult to accept this than the tragedy itself.
The first time I saw my father’s college friends together after his death, I realized that this was the new normal: They would continue getting together, even if they were a member short. The first time I came home from college after my dad’s passing, seeing his office devoid of Post-its, his empty seat at the dining table and his tea mug at the back of the cabinet made me desperately want to come back to Hopkins, where his absence wasn’t so noticeable.
At the end of each day, my father would always ask me to make him a cup of black tea and grab him two biscoitos de maizena. That first night back home, after I cleared the dinner table, I had a keen sense that I had forgotten to do something; it only dawned on me almost three days later that I was waiting for his request. Thinking about it in the following form helped: If everything related to him stopped existing — if his friends no longer met up, if I didn’t attend family events — I would lose the most tangible things I had left of him. A part of him lives on in the traditions and moments he can no longer be a part of.
I also experienced a loss of enjoyment in the interests I had shared with my dad and learned that this was to be expected. My dad and I had two things we loved to talk about endlessly: sports and the news. I would update my dad on the weekend’s Brasileirão fixtures, and he would text me about that morning’s headlines. For about six months after his death, I barely watched any sports. The Champions League (UCL) knockout stages were left unwatched; I couldn’t stomach the sight of the royal blue jerseys of Chelsea FC, one of my father’s favorite teams. The memory of celebrating their 2021 UCL win together, of cheering in the living room in our matching jerseys and ordering milkshakes to celebrate, was too difficult to stomach.
For a while, I was completely unable to follow through with the plans we had thought of together. Even going to the gym was difficult, because of how accustomed I had been to going with him.
The good news is that, although at the beginning the sorrow was sort of all-encompassing, as time passes, that sentiment fades further into the background. For me, what remains is the good.
This semester, I started writing for the Sports section of The News-Letter to reconnect with an important part of my life in a positive way, an experience I get to share through a joint column with one of my closest friends. One of my roommates, unprompted, got into the habit of making me a mug of tea every now and then before bedtime, another tradition of ours that inadvertently came back to life. Whenever someone asks me for advice, I find that my father’s extremely practical advice comes in handy, though I don’t always credit him. Most importantly, my mom and I look forward to making new memories without the guilt of feeling like we are leaving my father behind. Because, as I recently learned, we are not.
I still struggle now and then. For example, I can’t bring myself to play video games anymore. As an only child, I mostly played Mario Kart or Guitar Hero with my dad. I also have difficulty listening to voice memos he sent. However, I believe it’s all a process — sometimes it’s a very slow, confusing one, but a process all the same.
Grief, especially in college, can be tough to navigate. For me, grieving my father was a little isolating; I didn’t want to continuously expose my friends, both in college and at home, to my ‘lows.’ I thought that, whenever I got sad, it would be best to distance myself and process it on my own. Thankfully, I have pretty persistent friends. I’ve learned from them the importance of sharing feelings — even sad, negative, angry ones. It’s helped me reach out to other people in my life: my dad’s best friend, my grandmother, my former research advisor and, honestly, even my mom. I now know that people are much more willing to listen than I thought.
In honor of his legacy, I want to sign off with one of my favorite memories. During the week of Easter, my dad would always leave little chocolate bunnies for me around the house. Sometimes he’d buy too much chocolate for one child, and the bunnies would keep appearing until the end of April. The summer after my freshman year, when I arrived home, there was a gold bunny sitting on my bed.
Above all, I feel very thankful for the 20 years I had with my dad. I wanted longer, of course I did, but I will always have those 20 years.
Julia Mendes Queiroz is a junior from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil studying Economics and International Studies. Her column reflects on change, new experiences and learning to make decisions for herself.