On the side of my right thigh, more or less in the middle, is a tattoo: a green infinity symbol, with one side twisting into the word “brave” and the other side adorned by a red poppy. It is the second of three tattoos that I have, and I had it done in August 2012, some months after I said my last farewell to my father in the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery here in Montréal.
I was not yet twenty-two when my father passed away on a cold February morning two days after his fifty-seventh birthday. I was awakened by the sound of the ringtone I had assigned to my grandfather’s mobile, and the moment I heard it I knew that something was wrong. He never called me from his mobile unless there was something amiss. The moment I answered the call, I knew exactly what it was, and suddenly there was a tremendous weight on my young, irresponsible, and selfish shoulders: “Please call your siblings in Vancouver and let them know,” my grandfather said. “We have to speak with the medical team – they just arrived.”
To be the one to tell three of my four older siblings that our father had passed away was the hardest thing I have ever been asked to do, and it had to happen before I could leave my own apartment and walk the five blocks to my parents’ home in order to do what I could. But I had no idea what had to be done. Twenty-one years on this earth prepares one for absolutely nothing, especially when it comes to the task of laying a parent to rest, and all that such a task entails. The following quote pretty much sums up the entire experience of being a child who is suddenly faced with this ordeal –
“What happens when the light first pierces the dark dampness in which we have waited? We are slapped and cut loose. If we are lucky, someone is there to catch us and persuade us that we are safe. But are we safe? What happens if, too early, we lose a parent – that party on whom we rely for only…everything? Why, we are cut loose again and we wonder, even dread, whose hands will catch us now.”
I have to say, with no small amount of amazement and gratitude, that I was lucky. I was lucky because I had my brothers and sisters to lean on – emotionally while I waited for them to arrive, and physically once they did. I was lucky because my grandfather was there to help me console my mother. I was lucky because my mother had passed on to me some the tempered steel that is her willpower. I was lucky because I had friends who let me know that I was in their thoughts and hearts, no matter how far away they were.
But most of all I was lucky because I am, after all, my father’s daughter.
Fathers are not only role models for their sons: they are their daughters’ first heroes as well. My father’s body – frail and debilitated as it was by Parkinson’s, Ankylosing Spondylitis, and a heart attack – housed an indomitable spirit and active mind. Some of us have trouble getting up in the morning because we haven’t yet had a cup of coffee, or we went to bed too late. My father literally had trouble getting out of bed in the morning because his body fought against him every day. But each and every morning, he woke up and faced a day of intense physical suffering without so much as a peep of complaint.
That is extraordinary bravery and strength in an ordinary life. And that is always how I will remember my father – as a brave, strong man who, despite his physical afflictions, lived a life of faith, hope, and love for the sake of his family.
I have only a small measure of my father’s profound faith, and mine is shaky at best. I am cynical and jaded, and have been known in the past to consider love as being both arduous and futile. But being my father’s daughter means I have more of him in me than I think or than is outwardly recognisable. I may not have had much time with him, but I have a lifetime ahead to appreciate and treasure his legacy.
It is a simple legacy – but then again, “all the greatest things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word.” In my father’s case, there are four words that will always come to mind when I think of him.
Bravery. Fortitude. Perseverance. Strength.
And so, on the side of my right thigh, more or less in the middle, is a tattoo: a green infinity symbol, with one side twisting into the word “brave” and the other side adorned by a red poppy. It is the second of three tattoos that I have, and I had it done in August 2012, some months after I said my last farewell to my father in the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery here in Montréal. It is not a tattoo that was picked out of a book or drawn out of whimsy onto a napkin. It is a reminder of my father – because to me, José Victor Olaguera was known simply as “Poppie,” and for me, he was a man who was, until his last breath, forever brave.