This life lesson is a bit of a bummer, but one that I learned very early in life and continue to learn from:
It has now been 20 years since my father passed away. That number sometimes seems incomprehensible to my rational brain. Twenty years. I should have at least three books out in that time since it seems to take me six years to complete just one 🙂
The lead up to his death and the aftermath that followed still sometimes feel as fresh as though they happened last week. The main thing that has happened is that time, that great healer and source of countless useless platitudes when you are in the depths of grief, has in fact done as people said it would and tempered the magnitude of the pain that followed right after he left this earth.
People tried to tell us to “prepare ourselves” for what would follow but the simple truth is, you can’t. There is no possible way to brace yourself for the impact of what happens when someone you love so deeply is no longer around you, on the other end of a phone call, down the hall from you, in your life.
We had every possible conversation a person can have with someone before they know they are going to die and yet, still, the hours, the days, the months that followed were unspeakably wretched.
I remember the first social engagement I had after my father had passed away. I was at one end of the table quietly munching on some pad thai when someone at the other end of the table mentioned their father. An instant hush fell over everyone and all eyes turned to me. It was like Voldemort’s name had been said aloud and somehow I was going to magically melt into a blob of tears and sorrow in front of them. I was unfazed and kept on eating – soon conversation resumed. We left the restaurant and were saying our goodbyes when I looked up to the sky and saw a single bird flying over my head. The sight of it soaring through the air almost knocked me to my knees in front of everyone. In an instant I felt my chest compress, my breath get short and my heart begin to tear in unspeakably horrid shreds. From seeing a bird.
I couldn’t make sense of what has happening to me and what was happening to my family. Though we had all suffered the loss of the same person, each of us reacted very differently to his death. I found the Ontario Bereaved Society online and we made our way to one of their meetings. At the meeting they had separated people into groups based on how they had lost someone. There was one group for those who had lost a parent, a spouse, a child and even farther segregated groups for those who had lost someone to cancer, or from murder or suicide.
In our group, the facilitator commented that it had been twenty-five years since her parent had died. She recounted about how five years after her mother had died she was driving down the street one day, listening to music when she suddenly realized she had run a red light. She blamed it on grief. I whispered to my sister “That’s not grief. She’s just a bad driver.” It was months later when I began to fully understand what she was referring to and that there are moments when grief unacknowledged will force itself up to the surface in ways that make you address your loss.
I read up on countless different traditions and cultures and how they handle death and grief. None of them gave me much solace. And though this may make me sound like a crazy person, one day, feeling especially grief-stricken, I suddenly became very aware of a presence around me. I began to notice what we will call “signs” for the sake of this post, that though he was not physically near me, he was around me. His energy was still accessible to me on a deep, spiritual level. Initially it only made things worse as I began to believe I had fully gone bonkers and that it was only a matter of time before my brain turned on me completely and left me drooling and babbling incomprehensibly. And no one wants a blathering incomprehensible bride 🙂 (at last, there’s my #shamelessplug for my novel).
At some point, almost imperceptibly, the grief morphs into singular threads that make up a patch on your heart. The gaping hole that their death has left inside you is still there -denying its existence is very, very dangerous. The patch is a means of helping us to cope and it is sewn with the threads of memories, of laughs shared, tears shed, joy received, life lessons learned, condolences from others who share your pain and so much more.
Now years later, there is a sense of peace that has developed for me knowing that love itself is unquestionably the strongest most unbreakable bond we have as human beings. And that no matter what may happen, I can rest with the knowledge that though he is physically gone, the love is not gone and never will be. In fact, to experience that love in the first place is a gift and a blessing that I don’t take for granted as there are many who don’t get to experience the magnitude of this kind of bond at all.
So pull up a chair grief and let me tell you a story about the first time you walked into my life and became a part of everything I do. It’s a story that involves the surreal knowledge that the day after my father died, after running a few errands to get ready for the funeral, I sat in our car with my mother still reeling from shock looking towards a very uncertain future. And yes, there are samosas involved….