The man who made me who I am

My story of losing my father

Two men wearing blue shirts stand on a balcony overlooking a view of a dark mountain

Brian Perez and his dad pose for a vacation photo. Courtesy of Brian Perez.

It happened about one year ago, Jan. 7 — the loss I never imagined facing, at least not for decades to come.

My mom woke me up that morning at around 8 a.m.

“Brian, I think something is wrong with your dad. He keeps vomiting blood,” she said.

I immediately rubbed my eyes in shock and confusion, went into their room and saw him lying down, talking very softly and unaware of anything going on. 

I remember seeing a bucket with blood and dumping it down the toilet.

“Call your grandpa and call 911,” my mom recalled telling me, as she continued talking to my dad, flustered and sweating.

From that moment to the time the paramedics arrived was a blur: I was confused, didn’t know what to do and for some reason, stayed away from my dad.

In 2015, he was diagnosed with diabetes and low platelets, and a few years later, with cirrhosis in his liver.

We were told his sudden illness now was a complication of that. 

He would have to be intubated, which scared me to pieces. He was rushed to Hollywood Presbyterian.

She couldn’t go with him to the hospital because the Covid-19 pandemic had gotten so bad.  I remember my mom just putting a bag with his wallet and his glasses next to him in the ambulance.

At 1 p.m., my mom got a call from the hospital. As soon as I saw her start to say, “No,” in disbelief, I felt my body shake.

My mom handed the phone to my aunt. My dad’s brother called next.

“I’m here for you,” he told my brother and me. “Stay strong for your mother.”

I wanted to be strong but I was in complete shock and disbelief.

My family and I went to the hospital to see my father.

When it was my turn, I went past the curtains in his room, and saw him lying there, covered. Gone.

I felt an emptiness I had never experienced before in my life.

Losing somebody you love is like having someone punch you in the stomach. And the feeling persists over hours, days, weeks and months.

I felt the lack of his presence in our daily activities and in my future.

I thought of every moment he wouldn’t be here to see my brother and me grow into men. We would go on with our lives without him with us and that thought was devastating to me.

My dad grew up in El Salvador and came to the United States in 1984 with his parents and younger brother and sister.

My parents met in 8th grade and dated throughout high school, eventually getting married at 25 in 1995.

My father was my mom’s soulmate, so it is fitting that she spends every working day near him at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier, where my dad is buried.

I remember him telling me that he had a job making parts for airplanes years ago but when I was born, he decided to stop and become self-employed with my mom. My mom has always been very busy with being a travel agent, selling perfumes and being a pre-planning advisor at Rose Hills, where my dad now rests.

I was very close to my dad. He was always there for me whenever I needed him, whether it was signing me up to play basketball at recreation centers or taking me to school in the mornings, regardless of how tired he was or anything else going on in his life.

During his free time, we would watch Lakers games or Real Madrid soccer games. I can hardly think of one moment we shared that wasn’t special. Just being around him was wonderful; His warmth and energy were contagious.

He loved to joke around with people who knew him and share life lessons with us like the importance of always greeting people anywhere you go, even if you don’t know them, as a sign of respect, and to be patient in all things. It’s not always necessary to rush and do things quickly or without enough thought.

It’s advice I’ll always treasure. 

So much of who I am came from him.

My father’s death taught me to make an active decision to enjoy the time I have with those I love most because at any given moment, they can be taken away.

Some days are harder than others. When I feel the most pain, I try to focus on what I do have left: My mom and my younger brother, and a future that would make my dad proud.