17 Oct The Grief of Losing My Father
I fell asleep clutching an amazonite crystal the other night.
It was rough and unpolished, a chunk of blue-green rock as big as an apricot.
When I awoke in the morning, I was still clutching it.
As I rose from bed, I noticed that my head felt lighter than it had in the days before. I gave the crystal a squeeze, knowing that it must’ve helped to soothe me.
See, for the past week, my head has been throbbing with grief and anxiety. The soul-crushing kind. The kind that makes you want to call it a day, and you haven’t even had breakfast yet. The kind that fills your mouth with the bitter, dry taste of emptiness. The kind that renders your limbs useless, unable to take another step.
Yeah, that kind.
This is a first for me. And I’m not saying it in a boastful way, as if my life has somehow been blissfully happy and perfect for all these years. We all have our ups and downs.
But seriously, nothing could have ever prepared me for the down of losing my father.
It was something I fought to accept as it was happening; as the cancer spread throughout his body over a course of months, turning the once vibrant, electric, and energetic man I had known all my life into something entirely unlike himself.
I kept thinking: miracle. That’s what’s going to happen. Because my dad doesn’t die, I told himself. He is of this earth; he doesn’t die.
I cooked him meals with anti-inflammatory ingredients that were supposed to derail the illness. I blended smoothie after smoothie. Boiled pot after pot of water to make his green tea. I researched until 2am many nights, reading books and scouring the internet, trying to find alternatives that his doctor hadn’t thought about. This became my life.
Yes, I had two children and a husband and a business I was running. But that didn’t stop me from being consumed with all the ways in which to keep my dad alive.
There came a point when I really did have to let go.
It was 8 days before he died.
Up until then, he was still on his feet, doing most of the normal day-to-day things he could still manage to do. He was still answering the phone with his same cheery voice. Still chuckling at jokes and writing emails.
But one day, he made his way into bed and that was it. He didn’t want to get up again.
And I knew. I knew we would lose him.
I should have known in the weeks leading up to it. I should have known by the sound of his labored breathing whenever he took more than two steps. I should have known by the rapid weight loss. I should have known by the amount of light that had drained from his eyes. I should have known when he told me that he wanted to die in peace, that he wasn’t interested, anymore, in the alternatives that I was learning about. He had tried many of them, and he was done. He had accepted it already.
I think I did know, deep down. Which was why I was so anxious to keep him here.
But it wasn’t possible. We lost him.
In the days and weeks that followed, I cried six, seven, eight times a day. I felt as if the ground had been ripped out from beneath me. I didn’t want to eat. Every night, my pillow was wet with tears as I struggled to fall asleep.
Nothing in my spiritual practice could have prepared me for this.
I always tried to live with a deep acceptance of life’s cycles. I’ve done ceremonies and rituals to honor the changes in nature. I’ve danced under the light of the full moon. I’ve read about the cycles of birth, death, and rebirth, and thought I understood them.
But I really couldn’t. Not until I lost someone so near and dear to my heart.
The learning of this, the free-falling into the depths of my grief, unleashed a deep depression and anxiety in me.
Prior to this happening, I had never experienced anxiety or depression of any kind. And I thought I got it. I thought I knew what it was all about. But just as I thought I had understood about the cycles, I truly didn’t know.
I tried to meditate and to breathe. The things that I’ve always done to keep myself centered and balanced. But that didn’t work.
I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t concentrate. I just wanted to cry. I just wanted to feel the anger and the pain and the hurt and the shock and the heartache.
I spent many nights playing the song Ave Maria. A dear friend emailed me a video of it on youtube the day after my dad had passed. I played it, again and again, closing my eyes and picturing my dad and I dancing through the cosmos together. I saw it so deeply in my mind. It was like he was actually there. He was about 30 years younger than he had been when he died. And he was full of the same energy and exuberance and love of life that he had always possessed.
Sometimes I cried softly, as I imagined this. Sometimes I smiled. Sometimes I wailed until my entire body became dizzy from the weight of all the pain.
And then there were those days in which I just allowed all of the memories to flow. I kept trying to remember all of the moments with him that I could. Words, expressions, gestures. I wrapped myself up with the comfort of these memories, even though they distressed me at first, knowing I would never create new ones.
It went on like this for months. Remembering things. Visualizing him. Speaking to him in front of my altar, where I had planted a picture of him walking in a parade in France several years ago.
And I just let the tears flow. While I was driving, while I was in the shower, while I talked about him to others.
I didn’t care about hiding my grief. I didn’t care about putting on a happy face. I just let my grief show up.
I also went to the acupuncturist half a dozen times.
After doing all of this, there came a day where I realized I hadn’t cried. And then there were two days that went by without tears. Then three.
I couldn’t believe it. That was when I knew that I was healing, little by little.
It has been almost a year since we lost him. And I still cry. Not daily now, not with the same tormented shriek of someone who just had their heart ripped out of their chest. But I still do grieve. I still wish he was here. I still beg for God and the Universe to bring him back here with us, on this physical plane, as impossible as I know that is.
But things are starting to stabilize again.
That’s because of all the support I have…my husband, who holds me up, with strength and humor, through the tears. My mom, who cries with me and also laughs with me; the close, deep bond that she shared with my father always present in everything she does, which comforts me. My two little ones, who bring the sunshine in, even on the darkest days. My dad’s younger sister, and my own sister and brother, who share my pain, and also touch my heart with stories about my dad that I’ve never heard before. And my friends, who reach out with loving arms, who show up for me, who tell me that they’ll always be there.
All of that helps.
Every day, I feel a sense of deep gratitude rushing through me, reminding me of how lucky I was to have such a warm-hearted, generous, and loving father in my life.
All of that keeps me going.
Along with the fact that I feel his presence here, still with us, each and every day.
I love you, Dad. What a sweet and special soul you were, and will always be.