I vividly remember the day that one of my one of my closest friends called me at 1:30 AM to tell me that her Dad had just died. She had left the hospital and although she was audibly distressed, she was still able to drive herself home. “Do you want me to come over?” I compassionately offered. Projecting myself into her shoes, I just could not imagine losing my dad – or my precious, loving mom, for that matter. She has just lost both. That thought petrified me.
My dad did indeed die, several years after my friend’s losses. My dad had esophageal cancer, which for him, was a vicious and full-of-life suffering form of cancer until his death. Being there for my friend when her dad passed away helped me to learn a little about death and dying, but there is no replacement for personal experience. After my dad’s death, a spirit of sadness seized me – it was indescribable. It is impossible to contemplate the feelings of what grieving is about until the tears flood, blur and sting your eyesight … and your heart is tight and aching.
I was lucky to be with my dad when he passed away; seeing him take his last breath made this experience real. There was no guessing, “is this really happening; can anything else be done?” Yes, it happened and there were no more interventions, medicinal, magical miracles that would change the finality of his process.
After I came out of the fog of grief a few years later, I was fortunate to be offered an out of the country work assignment for several months. That November, I could feel the spirit of sadness creeping back. I was in denial – I did not want to welcome it, in any form of its need or offerings of silent grace. I struggled to push it away. Then, one day, as someone asked me if I was “going home” for Christmas, I happily said, “Why would I want to do that, I want to experience Christmas in this country.” This was basically the exact opposite of the type of Christmas and its traditions that I been raised with in our family.
The next day, I reached out to one of my friends, but he was wrapped up with work, not available to talk. My bottom lip quivered. My eyes welled up with tears. And then, the tsunami. I started to cry; I sobbed from my inner core. I was astounded how much sadness and grief gushed out of me, which seemed to turn me inside out. I cried so hard, I could not recognize myself in the mirror the next day; my eyes were so red and puffy. My friend did not recognize me either, and offered some well-needed care and empathy.
And then I realized, it was the comment about “home”. I missed my family. And I especially missed my dad, as I finally would never have another Christmas with him. Grief is so elusive. It is so personal. We all process our feelings in our own way. I continue to remind myself that it is okay to let the tsunami come. Welcome the tsunami. It is not permanent either. I felt a release and renewal after that re-manifestation of grief. I kindly give myself permission to grieve in whatever way, regardless of time gone by.
Recently, I was fortunate to travel to a town that has been a long-held dream. I read books about Avila as I sat held my vigil beside my dad’s bed in palliative care. These books changed my life – including the autobiography and other many books about St. Teresa of Avila in Spain. She was a resilient and brilliantly focused nun who lived in the fifteenth century.
As I meandered through a museum in Avila yesterday, I turned to look at the sun, which was glowing through a Gothic window frame – open and filled the staircase with bright sunlight. It so struck me that I turned back to take a picture. As I looked at the result on my camera, the shadow was in the shape of a heart. In that moment, I sensed the aroma of Amphora tobacco, which is what my Dad smoked in his pipe at our “home”, when I was a little girl. I quietly said, “Hi, Dad, lovely to have you on this trip.”
Now, I’m ready to go home. Home for the Holiday.