"How's your dad doing?" my friend Julie asked, with combination of nervousness and hopefulness in her voice. I was spending the night at her house because my mom and grandparents would be at the hospital late into the evening as they sat by my father's bedside. He'd been fighting lung cancer for two years, his body weak and thin and his spirit faltering despite his ever-present sense of humor.
And yet, I told my friend with confidence, "He's doing really well. He'll probably be able to come home soon." I honestly believed these words as I spoke them, but I can't remember whether it was because an adult told they were was true or simply because I so desperately wanted them to be.
My father died that night, just a few hours past Father's Day. It was 1995, and I was just 10 years old.
At that time, I was the only person I knew with a dead parent. I didn't even know anyone whose parents were divorced, much less deceased. Losing my father, especially in such a heartbreaking and drawn-out way, set me apart from my classmates – and when you're about to start middle school, the last thing you want is to stand out.