Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Adulthood (07/30/09)
TITLE: When Did I Become an Adult?
By Seema Bagai
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How about none? I shrugged and mumbled, “Five.”
“Let’s look at the caskets,” the man said. While my brain screamed, “No, let’s not,” my feet obeyed and followed. I had no idea what my estranged father would have wanted. It was not something we had ever discussed. Somehow, I waded through the choices and drove home clutching a to-do list for the next several days.
If this is what it means to be an adult, I don’t want to be one anymore.
When I was a child, I thought being an adult meant being able to drive places whenever I wanted, staying up late, having money to buy things, and not having to listen to my parents. Nobody said it also meant driving to the hospital in the middle of the night, fear-filled sleepless nights, buying adult diapers, and listening to the doctors’ medical jargon-filled rambling and attempting to explain it to my mother.
All I wanted to do was lay my head in my mother’s lap and cry. I wanted her to tell me I didn’t have to plan Dad’s memorial service, that she would take over and I could just follow along. Instead, she leaned on my shoulder as she sobbed, and I swallowed my tears, not wanting her to think I wasn’t strong enough to handle this.
In my mind, my parents were always adults, perfectly capable of taking care of themselves. Around them, I never thought of myself as an adult, too. When during the past months did I become an adult? Was it when I entered the hospital room to face the man I had not seen in three years? Was it when I signed the consent form for the surgeon to cut open Dad’s brain? Was it when I dragged Mom into the hospital room to reconcile with her ex-husband? Was it when I spoon fed Dad rice and lentils? Was it when I called the hospice office and told them my father had stopped breathing? Which day did I become an adult?
The next several days melded together into a constant flow of responsibilities: ordering flowers, selecting clothes, meeting the officiant, enlarging pictures to display at the service, and crafting the words to the eulogy. One foot in front of the other, I numbly checked off each item on the list.
The night before the funeral, I lay in bed, wishing I could burrow under the covers and stay there for the next several days, maybe longer. In the midst of my grief, I poured out my thoughts to my Heavenly Father. “I can’t do this. I can’t face everyone tomorrow. I can’t say good-bye to Dad.” Wordlessly, God embraced my anguish-filled heart, cradling me in His arms. Then, without my asking, He filled me with the strength I required.
During the service, Sis and I spoke of how Dad’s life had influenced us to become the adults we were today. We shared his belief in the importance of education, a value that shaped two doll-playing girls into professional women. We also spoke of the reconciliation we had experienced during Dad’s illness. We could have turned our backs on him, the way he did to us, but being an adult meant swallowing bitterness and embracing forgiveness. It meant facing Dad’s friends and relatives to show them with our actions that we loved and honored our father.
Two days later, we returned to the mortuary to collect Dad’s ashes and scatter them at sea. While we waited to board the boat, I held the wrapped container. Dad’s earthly remains fit in my hands, as I once fit in his hands. Three miles off the coast, we dispersed the remains and said good-bye. As the boat returned to shore, I gazed at the horizon and felt the ocean breeze against my face.
In the three months of Dad’s infirmity, I had completed difficult, often anguishing tasks that accompany illness and death. Looking back, I want to point to a specific instance during this time when I became an adult. That moment doesn’t exist. My path to maturity began under my parents’ care, and continues daily under the guidance of my Heavenly Father.
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