” I answer the heroic question
‘Death where is thy sting?’ with ‘it is here
in my heart and mind and memories’”
One year ago, my dad passed away. To say this past year has been it’s own hell, and my world has been completely destroyed, wouldn’t even come close to scratching the surface of being an understatement. There is nothing that can prepare you for this type of devastation. There are no stages of grief relevant enough to encompass all you feel nor to explain the myriad of emotions that occur within a single moment. Those who mean well have encouraged me to hold on to the positive memories, and that it will all heal in time; but here’s a hard truth…time doesn’t heal all wounds and memories seldom offer comfort. For me, time just gives me space to adapt and try to process a new normal, and the positive memories illicit more pain because they are a constant reminder that I cant create more. Unfortunately, memories are seldom able to be controlled so they replay anyway.
There are so many aspects of grief that are rarely discussed. No one seems to talk about the times where you go all day staring at nothing, numb. The days where if you drank water or brushed your teeth, you feel you’ve accomplished something. People don’t talk about the guilt that comes when you discover your first moment of happiness, nor the adjustment it takes to fully embrace those moments knowing they are fleeting and the waves will roll back in. No one talks about the immense internal loneliness as you’re surrounded by people that try to help but haven’t been in your shoes. And no one seems to talk about the shift in your perspective that alters how you interact with and within society as a whole.
A few weeks after my dad passed, I went back to my place and just sat…and cried and then sat some more. As I reflected on my life, his life, and my family, so many things that were once pivitol, or even mildly entertaining, became extremely pointless. I questioned everything we have been conditioned to know. How long we work and the false security that provides, how we do life and relationships with each other, how much we fear, and ultimately how often we do, or don’t do the very thing we know makes us feel alive.
It’s as if I took a step outside of the world around me and was able to see it all from a different view. I was on the outside looking into a society and culture that I no longer identified with. Hell, I barely identified with it before! Drama or pettyness were not tolerable in any form, things done to me, or said about me, were a reflection of the person and not my burden to bear (also, i didn’t care), I could see through fakeness easily, it saddened me watching others feel the need to put on masks in fear of judgement or consequences, and I couldn’t and wouldn’t continue to do mundane tasks that weren’t fulfilling and contributing to my well being nor allowing me the freedom to live unencumbered. Including my job. So I quit.
The reactions from me walking away were astounding. Many reacted in fear asking what I would do or how I would live. Others called me brave or crazy, noting that they could never do it. Some scoffed, some supported; either way my decision was final. I sold almost all of my possession, packed up what was left and road tripped out of there to the beach; the only place that felt, and still feels, like home. Of course my pain came with me. But, for the first time, I actually had the time to cater to it.
Forced to sit within my grief, I had no choice but to feel. I had to listen to myself, silence the voices of others, and detangle and unbecome everything and every expectation that I’ve been taught. It wasn’t easy. There are so many “demands” thrown at you. So many telling you how to heal, when or why. People expecting you to bounce back to who you were even though that you no longer exists. They mean well but grief is a lot like drowning. Pressure all around as wave after wave pummels you keeping you under. You struggle and fight and try to find a way out and eventually contemplate giving up. Imagine that mixed with voices yelling at you to try harder or to not try. Voices trying to explain that you are doing it right or doing it wrong or giving you their permission to fight or not fight.
Eventually, it all becomes too much and you give up. At least, I gave up. I stopped fighting the waves and the turmoil, stopped trying to decipher the voices around me, stopped caring if they were right or wrong or if how I was handling all of this appropriately. I gave up…fully intending to drown. The craziest part is that the moment I stopped my struggle, and let it all engulf me, is the same moment that I realized I could breath. It was just me in this vast ocean of emotions and I. could. breathe. My grief became a safe haven. As a result, I showed up. ALL of me showed up in EVERYTHING. If I was angry, sad, numb, indifferent or happy; whatever I was in each moment, that is what you got. That’s the beauty of grief; Freedom. No masks, no pretense, no fear or care of the opinions and perceptions of others; just undeniable blatant being.
As I stepped away from all that is expected, I realized that most of the fear that I had been listening to wasn’t even my own. People of influence, or people I care about, were voicing their fears and, instead of dissecting it for myself and deciding if it was true for me, I took it on as my own and stopped myself from doing what I felt.
It’s crazy because, when you are on the outside looking in, you notice a lot of fear. Fear that is so ingrained in our everyday lives that we barely notice it’s there, yet it governs and permeates most of our decisions. Fear of the unknown, fear of failing, fear of succeeding, fear of loving to much or too little, being to much or too little. Fear of missing our chances or taking ones we shouldn’t, of not having enough, of living or of missing out. Fear of our own voice and passions. Fear is so subtly enmeshed in our society that it ultimately immobilizes us and keeps us trapped in worlds we don’t belong. We limit ourselves because of it and allow it to be a sole motivator.
Over the last few months, Ive tried to start a variety of projects. Business, professional, personal, you name it. I was excited momentarily but each one of them would fall through as I realized that not only was I not ready, but I didn’t want to be launched back into society in this capacity. Didn’t want to become part of the never ending race to “making it”. I was distracting myself from the one thing I’ve always talked about doing but never did. I dropped all the projects and listened “I think I’m leaving”. No sure answer, just this statement. Fear and anxiety were still present and lurking, but there was peace. Freedom, authenticity and hope were now my main motivators. Fast forward 4 weeks, and here we are.
On Father’s Day, I will be heading out on a solo trip for an indefinite amount of time. When I started making my plans, I wasn’t aware of it being Father’s day, but it’s incredibly fitting. My Dad understood me. He may not have always agreed with my decisions, but once they were made, he cheered me on, giving me a checklist of preparations to consider. He was proud of me. Not just for the things Ive accomplished but for who I am. In feeling empty with him gone; in having to start over, I was given everything I needed. A solid push to be true to myself and live my life fully and on my own terms. It’s time I make myself proud. So here I am.
I have no idea what comes next. I’m figuring it out as I go, like everyone else. I just know that when nothing is certain, EVERYTHING is possible. Not sure who wrote that phrase but I’m ok living in a world of possibilities and letting life surprise me.
For Dad: trying to fill loss with life