No matter how prepared you are for it, Grief hits you like the blast of a furnace door opened in the middle of a snowstorm. That difference in temperature is a shock, an uncomfortableness that prickles your skin and nauseates. You’re constantly trying to catch up, get on an even keel, regain your footing. And it doesn’t come. Even someone who has been languishing between worlds for months, years, who abused you or beat you, or conversely, who adored you and thought you walked on water – when they go, when it happens, you’re different. Immediately. Nothing is ever the same again. It becomes a watershed moment where everything is then measured against it – post-Loved-One. It leaves these waves, tsunamis, actually, that come at the most unlikely and unwelcome times. Sometimes it’s a vise grip on your heart that wrenches brutal wracking sobs that have no sound, they just make your body heave, that awkward keening, and the tears pop out of your eyes so hard they splash feet ahead of you; sometimes it’s a feather, tickling the bottom of your heart with poignancy and softness, causing whimpers and mews, and sometimes, most of the time, it’s a stone, heavy with loss and darkness, sitting on your chest, weighing you down like a millstone on your soul, threatening to hurtle you into the chasm; that abyss of nothing – no light, no feeling, no sound.
It is useless saying to siblings or other family members that you know what they’re feeling. They don’t know what you’re feeling either. Empathy is just a word we use to keep connected to one another. We may have experience with the circumstance, but it is completely different to each who goes through it. We each meant something different to the person that was lost, we each had a different relationship to them. That’s the curse (and sometimes the blessing) of being human – we never ever truly know exactly what another human being is thinking. We just can’t. We can’t crawl up into that consciousness and think their thoughts. Even people who say they are telepathic – reading another person’s mind doesn’t give you any more insight to who they are – it’s just the words they haven’t spoken. Their soul, their spirit, is as private as the darkness. So when that soul, that spirit, exits this plane, it’s that light, that anima, if you will, that we miss. This is one of the reasons I wasn’t afraid to see my father after he was gone. I knew that it wasn’t him anymore. I knew the thing that made him, him, was gone. What was left was just his shell, his husk, his house where he lived for 75 years, 5 months and 24 days. I would have been more disturbed had he actually looked like I remembered – then I would have known it was a mistake. As I touched him, his hands were cold, they didn’t reach for mine, his skin didn’t react when I touched it. He was gone.
The friends that I have through my program have taught me so much. One of them lost her mother and her brother within a year of each other. The first was expected, the other, tragically. She spoke of the privilege of being in the room with her mom when she passed. To see the whole family gathered beside her, sending her love, knowing that her journey elsewhere was about to begin, and not be sad about it. To witness the human being who had given birth to them, take her last breath, and to be grateful for that awesome gift.
Stupidly, I was hoping for something like that when Dad passed. I wanted to be there, but I know now that it was OK that I wasn’t. My niece whispered a message to him that I was on my way, and to please wait, but he couldn’t. He was tired, and I knew that. My mom and my sister were there when he went. I am grateful they were there, so that he wasn’t alone, and that it was peaceful.
I used to be so afraid of death – like it was some sneaky bastard watching me and counting the minutes till I was his. (There’s a Mr. Death at the door – oh, it was the Salmon Mousse? I’m FRIGHTFULLY embarrassed!) I used to be afraid of succeeding, or being too happy, or loving too much – because I was sure that Death was waiting to spring like a cat and devour me. So I stay just in the middle – not too happy, not too successful, not loving too much – just enough. Enough to be alive but not really to live, not to suck the marrow out of life and feel accomplishment and satisfaction that the day ended well. There’s always something I could have done better, someone I could have loved more, some task I could have tried harder at. I foolishly thought that Death would come later for those who don’t expect too much out of life, don’t live, don’t take risks, just survive. The people who enjoy their lives always get cut short, in my world.
I remember this so vividly, like it was yesterday – in Grade 8 religion class, being with these kids I’d been with since kindergarten, who already thought I was weird, a freak – our teacher asked us, “when would you like to die? When you’re young, after your prime, or old age?” Every single person in that room, save myself, answered, “Old age.” When the teacher asked me what I said, and I replied, “after my prime” the room erupted in derisive laughter. After he quieted the class, he asked me why, and I said, “I would rather die after my prime than sit thinking about yesterday as an old woman. And besides, I could not hit my prime till I’m 80!” Yup. Definite weirdo.
Program has helped me become OK with Death. Sometimes it’s tragic, sometimes it’s wistful, but always, always – it’s inevitable. It’s what you do with the days in between birth and stepping off the curb in front of that bus that are important. Cleaning up the wreckage of my past and continuing to try to keep my side of the street clean helps not have that fear. I didn’t feel any remorse or pain that I didn’t get to say what I needed to say to my dad before he went. I had already said it. He knew me, warts and all. He fathered me. He gave me my love of traveling, of meeting people and conversing with strangers (in other words, friends I hadn’t met yet). There were probably many more things we could have talked about, and I wish that there had been that time. There wasn’t. That’s the thing I most regret. I wish for more time.