Tag Archives: Grief

How to Grieve a Father (Before He’s Even Gone)

After getting the news…

Go stand in the shower to cry, howl instead.

Wail to the heavens, his heavens, the heavens that he believes in enough for the both of you.

Squint your eyes at the crescent moon, the last moon Dad would ever know. Grapple with that for a minute.

Later, meticulously make note of the moon and its aspects: a waxing crescent moon in Cancer.

…Search for meaning. Always search for meaning.

Wonder aloud, tell him, “You were everything to me, Dad. And now you are everything.”

Light a candle, and then another candle, and then another candle. Burn sage and cedar wrapped in string. Sing the Maha Mantra over his dead/dying body. More wailing.

Then silence. Enough silence that someone says, “I think she’s in shock.”

Hold your hands in prayer. Pray for grace, pray for strength, but most of all, pray for his soul to be okay after falling off that ladder.

Notice his body swelling. His hands. His eyes. Listen when the doctors tell you it’s the machines that are keeping his body alive. Write all the dirty details in a notebook, as if that’s going to change anything. Prognosis: impossible.

Instruct them to keep keeping his body alive until all or most of his loved ones have come to see him, to say their goodbyes and their thank you’s.

Host them. Meet them in the waiting room. There are so many and they can only go in in twos.

Notice how his body is swelling. How at first he looked just like Dad, but now, not so much. Notice how he doesn’t open his eyes. Notice the artificial breath. Touch his hair.

Put your hands in prayer again.

Talk like Dad is in the room. Tell him, “So and so is here to see you, Dad.”

Surprise yourself by reciting the Lord’s Prayer verbatim during a too long silence.

After all the visitors, try to sleep next to Dad in a recliner that the hospital provided. Have trouble sleeping. Decline the offer for TV. Walk the halls of the hospital instead.

In the morning, instruct the doctor to unplug him. Play a favorite song. More wailing.

Let your grandpa hold you…something he’s never done before.

Weeks later, let your grandpa walk you down the isle at your wedding.

Ask the mortician to burn him with his tulsi mala beads on, wrapped around his wrist or placed around his neck.

Liken him to Christ in his obituary.

Don’t wash Dad’s laundry, because that means he’ll really be gone.

Place a portrait of him as a baby at your dining room table. His cherub-like smile greeting you every morning.

Place his adult portrait on your dresser, making eye contact every time you pass it.

Decide you don’t need Dad in your bedroom, on your dresser, looking over you. Place the portrait in the common room instead–a reminder to all who enter, “Father Gone But Not Forgotten.”

Search for rainbows. Stitch a quilt of silver linings.

Study Dad’s birth and death dates for meaning: 11/11/62 – 5/5/22

Find none because your mind is too blurry.

Place the jelly in the cupboard and the peanut butter in the fridge.

Finally wash Dad’s laundry, twice to get rid of the ICU smell. But refuse to put the clothes away. Then it’ll really, really mean that Dad’s gone.

Gone. Meditate on the origin of the word. It’s from the Old English “gan” meaning to depart or go away.

Dearly departed. Indeed.

Take a month to go pick up the cremains, which they present to you in a box inside a gift bag.

Tell yourself you’re going to buy little ceramic jars for the family. Then don’t.

Smoke too much pot. It was your and Dad’s “thing.” That and swimming or soaking.

Tell yourself you’re going to take yourself to the water every opportunity you get. Then don’t.

Tell yourself you’re going to send a card to the nurse staff at Sutter Coast Hospital. Then don’t.

Tell yourself you’re going to try not to be so hard on yourself for once. Then don’t.

Have breakfast with his baby picture everyday. Granola and that gummy smile.

Tap into that grief place through music. Play all the emotional ones. Unknown Legend. Eureka. Ripple.

Take a walk in the woods, it’s what he would have wanted.

My Sweet Lord

I am not a destiny person. Or I wasn’t until now anyway. I’m still wary of signing off on that whole concept. But I dare you not to think of God or the afterlife, when staring at a body you once knew, loved, even relied on, hooked up to a life support machine. Questions of what the soul is, where the soul is, and where that soul will end up are likely to swirl around in your consciousness for weeks, if not forever, if you are like me.

So that is where I am now. As I write this, it is seven days after Dad’s passing. I am reflecting on how in those moments of great challenge with Dad, in those hours that I laid by his bedside in the hospital, I surprised myself by curling up in the presence of Something Greater. It didn’t feel good to pray and to surrender—nothing felt good at that time—but it felt completely necessary. The experience with Dad made me question my own faith, or what little there was left of it. This is all to say, you don’t need spirituality…until you do. And you will.

I usually cringe at statements like “It was meant to happen” or “It was all part of God’s plan.” Now there is a small fissure in the wall of my beliefs, where the narrowest slip of light can come in. I didn’t become a believer overnight. Or rather over those 36 hours between Dad’s accident (a fall from a ladder) and when we took him off life support. But my defenses did soften. Where else was there to turn, but to some idea of God? To some idea of an afterlife? I couldn’t just turn on the television and forget about it all, though they did, perplexingly, have a TV in the ICU.

How could all of this, I questioned, from work to play and everything else in-between be orchestrated? It had all been said by others before but, if it were all orchestrated, why would innocent people be imprisoned and tortured, people who love with all they have become broken hearted, and children be born, and die, on the streets? Why is there no justice on this earth?

If there was such a thing as heaven, I hoped there was justice there.

According to many, the answer to why there is pain and suffering is that the soul has a need for spiritual evolution. That each has their own lessons to learn in this life, on this earth. Without conflict, our spiritual selves cannot grow or evolve. In the days after Dad’s passing, people started saying things like, “His work here was done.”

Dad used to talk a lot about religion and spirituality. And now that he’s not physically here, I feel I owe him the respect of listening, of leaning into his beliefs, of opening my heart and mind to what he’d been saying all along. His teachings have never been more relevant. In the moments by his bedside, I experienced more than one “ah ha.”

The best I can do for Dad now is to breathe more life into those wisdoms and teachings that he’d had. In his obit, which I wrote, I liken him to Christ. It’s a bold statement, I know. But some people don’t realize the well of compassion that Dad carried within him. Just one example, at the time of his death there was, and still is, a man living on Dad’s property. When we approached him and asked where they’d met, the man said he met Dad at the Mission. He’d just been released from prison, and Dad offered him a place to stay. As a child, there was always one person, usually a convicted felon, living on our land. These are people who had been shunned from society, with no place else on earth to go. And Dad was there for them, as hard as that was for me at times.

“Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.” Proverbs 14:31

I didn’t know that scripture, I don’t know any scriptures, really, but thinking about Dad’s ways, I did a quick Google search. It turns out there are a shit ton of scriptures just like that one.

When the doctor came into the room—Dr. Christie—he asked me, with complete respect, why I had laid a hindi blanket across Dad’s body. I fingered the white cloth with the red Sanskrit lettering and depictions of Krishna and Rhada.

“Dad is a Hare Krishna…and a Christian, and a Buddhist,” I told Dr. Christie.  

He took a sidelong glance at the Bible I’d brought and placed on the table next to Dad’s breathing machine. He worshipped any God that was in front of him, I thought. But I can’t remember if I told Dr. Christie that or not.

A few days later, I was reading a book “Embraced by the Light” by Betty J. Eadie and came across this:

“I wanted to know why there were so many churches in the world. Why didn’t God give us one church, one religion? The answer came to me with the purest of understanding. Each of us is at a different level of spiritual development and understanding. Each person is prepared for a different level of spiritual knowledge. All religions on earth are necessary because there are people who need what they teach.”

It turns out that that book “Embraced by the Light” would help me access my spirituality through a side door: near death experiences or NDEs. I couldn’t come to that spiritual place head on, through the Bible or the Baghavad-Gita. I don’t jibe, and never have, with religious stories that read like fiction or with timelines that seem to counter science.

But I could get behind near death experiences themselves, I mean, Dad and I had both had one. His, we all believe, was what made him the way he was. But more on that later. I couldn’t possibly tell this entire story in one sitting. In my journal, where I have been laying down all the letters and words that have been helping me come to some place of understanding at this unimaginable crossroad in my life, my writing now shifts from addressing you, the audience, to addressing Dad himself. This change in style makes it difficult for me to continue the story and round it out in a nice, easy way, so I will share the next segment of what I have written in my journal, before closing this chapter and picking the story up in a different piece. If anything is to render me speechless, or wordless, it is Dad’s passing. So be it. The fact that I cannot finish this essay is a testament to my grief.

My next paragraph is, “I thought of how, since you were a boy, you’d had one foot in this world and one foot in another. You didn’t remember ‘what happened’ when you were in a month-long coma, or what happened to your soul in those moments that you floated lifeless on top of the water, having drowned, but it was clear that you’d met God.”

This is all to say that you don’t need spirituality…until you do. And you will. And also this: some things you just can’t write, or reason, your way out of.

Love and mysterious blessings,

Mama Bird