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2019 and 2020 were a whirlwind. I spent months living in Boston and in Costa Rica, taking care of my dad through his illness and his eventual death, comforting my mom and my siblings, and being comforted in return.

While 2020 was undeniably shittier for other people than it was for us, I will forever think of it as the year my dad passed away. If there was one silver lining to the COVID crisis for me, it was the fact that I could spend quality time with him during his last days. I was back home for a good chunk of the summer, and after quarantining with my brother and his wife on arrival, I lived with my parents for nearly a month. I was having breakfast, lunch, and dinner with my dad almost daily, something that hadn’t happened since I had graduated high school and left Costa Rica, more than ten years ago. Thanks to COVID, I could easily work remotely. Working from there, I could ask him for his opinion as I strategized my next moves, and got to share my accomplishments face to face at the dinner table. The fact that I was home when I learned about my promotion to management at Apple, and being able to see his reaction to the news in person, was priceless.

I learned of his passing after landing at O’Hare. I was there to visit Hannah’s family, and I didn’t even leave the airport. I turned around and got on another plane. I had just FaceTimed him from the gate at SFO, and told him once again that I loved him. He told me he was feeling better that morning. It was all so very sudden, and yet so anticipated.

COVID silver linings also meant I could go home and grieve with my family. I made it in time for his funeral and stayed through the month-long mourning process of the shloshim. Getting on a plane back to SF was hard.

I’ve wanted to write about this experience for a while, but somehow I hadn’t been able to get past a blank screen for months. The task felt monumental, knowing that it’d be impossible to write anything meaningful enough. This post isn’t even about him, but about me and the experience of losing him. As my mom said when we were trying to figure out the epitaph to go on his tombstone: “there’s not enough marble in the world…”

During his last year and a half, there were few phrases he repeated more than “how are we going to do this?” Two come to mind:

  1. Don’t fight amongst your brothers, and
  2. Take care of your mom

It’s unbelievable that two full years without him have already passed. These years have been hard, really hard, but they’ve also been a moment of family union. A moment that shows that Szapsa Burej’s care for his family was not just a value he only emphasized in his last days. He prepared us for this his whole life. His priorities couldn’t have been clearer, and for that, I thank him.

Ultimately, the responsibility of picking the verse to carve on his tombstone fell on me. I researched and read a lot until I found something fitting:

Like an ever flowing wellspring (Pirkei Avot 6:1)

כמעיין המתגבר (פרקי אבות ו.א)

Pa, I’ll miss you.

The original draft of this post was written in bits and pieces over sleepless nights in the last couple of years.