Stages of Grief: What Therapy Doesn’t Teach You About Burying Your Dad

CHAPTER 1: Anger.

I get feelings of contempt here and there when someone tries to sympathize with my loss. They don’t know the feeling of wanting to hug the fresh dirt that now surrounds my Dad’s casket. They don’t know the hearts I had to hold so they didn’t break. They didn’t know that I held my father’s heart the same way until it gave out. They don’t know how I watched my sister fall to pieces, watched my Grandma say goodbye to another son, watched my family say goodbye to their favorite cousin.

They don’t know the alcohol that didn’t sit – didn’t inebriate me enough to not feel what I felt, didn’t drown me enough to forget what happened. They don’t know what it’s like to be without you.hey don’t know the cigarettes I smoked to get closer to you. Or the throats I would have choked rather than to live another day without you.

They don’t know what it’s like to be without you.

CHAPTER 2: Bargaining.

You were hospitalized in April. Congestive Heart Failure. You were swollen – retaining water, and you couldn’t walk. I thought maybe, just maybe, if we made some changes to your lifestyle when you came home, things would be okay.

You would live a little longer. You would be a little healthier. We can take walks around the neighborhood. You can cut back on fast food. But you didn’t, and I wasn’t there to stop you.

I wasn’t there for you.

CHAPTER 3: Denial.

You quit the crack. That’s what you said. It’s October now. And my Grandma has been in Mexico for two months. She comes back today. October 21st. Her flight lands at 1 pm. My cousin is giving her a ride home from LAX. They are on their way to you. My cousin gets off to open the door for Grandma, but something’s wrong. You’re not answering the door. My cousin looks inside the house through the front window. Sees you on the couch – lifeless. 

Something’s wrong.

He climbs onto the roof, flings open the upstairs window, jumps inside and runs downstairs. It’s too late. You’re already gone. Maybe 2 hours, maybe 1. Maybe just 30 minutes. Days later. We find a crack pipe hidden where you had your fatal heart attack. 

CHAPTER 4: Depression.

Sometimes the sadness and loneliness show up in the ugliest ways. Like in the bed of an asshole who treats you like shit. Before you died, I had the strength to say no, leave me alone, don’t come back here, fuck off, goodbye. But I didn’t want to lose another man I kind of loved. Considering I only loved men that hated themselves. So, when this asshole’s insecurities started playing out in the forms of carnal damage, I stayed. 

I didn’t drink too much, or smoke too much weed, or take too many bars, or do too much cocaine, or sleep with random men, or cry. I laid in the arms of a man who hated hurting me but did it anyway. Maybe, I felt like I deserved it. Like I wasn’t worth saving. Let this man kill me, cause I’m too chicken shit to do it myself. If that’s not the worst depression, tell me, what is? 

I remembered when I told you I was going up north for school. I thought it would break your heart, leaving you like that. I wasn’t asking for permission, just letting you know, but you already knew. You said, “Baby, It’s okay. We all knew you would eventually move far away.” You saw me. You knew me. And then you died. 

You didn’t raise me; you didn’t discipline me right, but you talked to me, and you knew what my depression looked like. When I was in a deep, dark hole and you weren’t you knew how to get me out and see the light. I’m sorry I couldn’t do that for you, too. 

CHAPTER 5: Acceptance.

I don’t visit your grave. Ever. I figured there was no point in visiting a rotting body if it won’t do anything for you or me. So, I visit you in my dreams. Or maybe, you visit me? All I know is up until my last dream you were always the same shitty Dad I loved. Sometimes you were short with me and couldn’t look me in the eye sometimes you were in jail sometimes you were back home and hugging me but you were always upset. You weren’t happy in those dreams. You weren’t pleased with me, or content with yourself. 

But in this last dream, we were connected. You were tender and cared about yourself. In this last dream, unlike reality, you had even forgiven yourself. I wasn’t traumatized and you were emotionally stable. Was this your heaven? Where the family you helped create was okay and not so fucked up? We laughed and my face caressed yours like a cat rubs her face against her human’s face. I never showed you that kind of love in real life. 

In this last dream, you let your guard down. That’s how I knew you were finally okay. 

Sixteen & Pregnant: The Untelevised Reality

I don’t remember the words I said before going under anesthesia, but I remember waking up in a dinky old surgery room with dim lighting and a woman in the bed closest to mine. She appeared a little confused but calm. She looked like she had done this before. If I could imagine what I looked like to her, I would have looked like a terrified teenage girl who had just had an abortion.

When I told my mother I was pregnant I felt so much shame…like I had failed her.

Proud Mom, Circa 2019.

When I told my mother I was pregnant, I felt so much shame. I felt like I had failed her. I was supposed to be the “good” child, who made the family proud, who brought home good grades. I was supposed to be the child who went to college and brought my family out of poverty and into the American middle class. My Mom had little support from my Dad and worked two jobs for 60 hours a week. I couldn’t bring another child into her home and complicate her already stressful life.

My Mom is Chicana. Her soul is split between Southern California and Mexico. She grew up on both sides of the border, seen her parents sacrifice everything for her to grow up with food in her belly, clothes on her back, and a roof over her head. But at 16 years old, she was on her own. And by the time she was 18, she was pregnant with my older sister, and my parents were slanging dope to keep up with expenses. My Mom has been hustlin’ since she was 16 and has never had a break.

My Mom taught me how to use a knife to defend myself, to speak up when things weren’t right, and to rebel against what people imposed on me.  She taught me to be my authentic self and to succeed while others are plotting my downfall. She taught me to prevail in the face of evil, laugh in the face of imposters and to be brown in a room full of whiteness. She was raising a fierce feminist who, at 16 years old, was learning how to advocate for her current and future self.

When I told my Mom I was pregnant, she didn’t ask me if I wanted to keep it, and she didn’t ask me if I wanted to terminate the pregnancy. She and I both knew I couldn’t and wouldn’t have this baby. Not only did I not want to be a Mom at the time, I was also using fen-phen for fun, smoking pot everyday and drinking on the weekends (Yes, at 16). For the first time in a long time, I cried in my Mom’s arms because I was scared. I fucked up. I could hear the llantos pouring out of me as she held me and told me everything was going to be okay. She helped me make an appointment to terminate the pregnancy at a Women’s Clinic, and she took me when it was time.

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Maybe it was just me, but I felt like the youngest one in that clinic. I had just turned 16 years old two months before getting knocked up. I thought I was hot shit! But I didn’t really know shit. If I had any common sense at the time, I would not have cleaned my very fertile flower with the same towel my ex-boyfriend used to clean his pollinator. Did you know that semen can survive for up to seven days outside of a host? I sure didn’t. I also didn’t have great sex education. Most of what I learned about sex was through my friends at school, and most of them weren’t using condoms, either.


A nurse came over and handed me a giant maxi pad. She said it would help with the bleeding. My tears stopped immediately. There was no more time to feel sorry for me. I could not show an ounce of weakness to anyone anymore. I wasn’t just a 16-year-old girl anymore; I had something to prove. I had to pass my 11th grade AP classes and be the first in my family to apply to universities. But first, I had to get this giant maxi pad on.

Friend watching the sun go down in Marina Del Rey, CA.
Friend watching the sun go down in Marina Del Rey, CA.

Between the initial shock of an unexpected, unplanned, and unwanted pregnancy and the choice to remove that pregnancy from our bodies, we were all pretty reticent in that changing room.

The nurse took me into a changing room where there were other women, young and old, who had just had abortions, too. As we walked into the room, we were given crackers and juice. I felt like I was part of a cowherd being shepherd from one meadow to the next. It all looked the same to me. We went from hospital gowns to the clothes we came in within a matter of minutes. We went from being pregnant to not being pregnant in just a matter of minutes, too. Between the initial shock of an unexpected, unplanned, and unwanted pregnancy and the choice to remove that pregnancy from our bodies, we were all pretty reticent in that changing room.

As I was leaving that changing room – I noticed a familiar face. Ana, my friend Rosie’s older sister, was here, too. I felt comfort in knowing I wasn’t alone. I couldn’t wait to connect with her on this shared experience. No one at school would understand what I was going through. Earlier that month, I told Rosie my period was late and that I felt something different with my body. She offered to push me down some stairs as a favor. I laughed. I almost took her up on that offer. I wonder if Rosie said the same thing to her sister when, or if she knew Ana was pregnant, too.

It turns out; I wasn’t the only 16-year-old who got knocked up during that Winter Break in 2007. My friend Janet was also pregnant. From the moment she found out she was pregnant, she was keeping that baby no matter what. It didn’t matter if her partner didn’t want to be a Dad, yet. It didn’t matter if it would set her behind in school. As a first-generation Christian Latina from the projects, this baby would be her salvation and her biggest blessing. My friend Brenda was also knocked-up. She and her partner were excited and wanted to keep the baby. Her Mom, however, was reluctant to accept the truth, but eventually, she supported Brenda and the pregnancy. Unfortunately, Brenda had a miscarriage. As a middle-class white girl from a broken home, she felt this baby could save her.

16 and Pregnant Volume 1

MTV produced a whole ass reality show around the pregnancies of my peers and called it “16 and Pregnant.” I was a sucker for reality shows, so of course, I tuned in. But little was relatable to me. The only thing I could relate to was the title…16 and Pregnant. There those girls were – white Americans whose parents had homes and whose communities were almost 100% White Americans, too. And there I was, just another 16-year-old Mexican girl from a ‘hood in Los Angeles who got knocked up by her cholo ex-boyfriend. As much as we wanted to be loved and whole, the Universe had different plans for the 3 of us.

It was a Tuesday morning. Mami told me to wear something comfortable, so I wore my baggiest sweats and a UCLA pullover hoodie. It was the middle of February, so this outfit was perfect for the weather. I read a book and snuggled my Mom while I waited for the nurse to call my name. “Ms. Hernandez? We’re ready for you now.”

I followed the nurse into another room, where they drew blood and prepped for me for a quick and painless procedure. When I woke up, I started weeping. My body curled naturally inward as the llantos poured out of me. I tried to unravel my feelings of happiness from my feelings of loss, but the two co-existed unapologetically. I felt the loss for the soul I have yet to meet and loss for my egocentricity, on the other hand, I was happy to be free to have the choice to not be a Mom at this time. Actively choosing to postpone or decline parenthood was my first step into adulthood, and I cried because I knew that after this day, things would never be the same for 16-year-old me. My Mom was right, however. Everything did turn out okay.

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