If you follow my blog, my teachings, or my podcast, you know that I just lost my father to Alzheimer’s. It has been a seven-year journey into darkness for him and a daily choice for me to stand in the Light, despite – and possibly because of – the grief. And the journey has drawn to an end.
This blog entry isn’t about teaching a grand lesson. There’s no overarching theme as I type. I’m not attempting to teach you something, and I’m not trying to convince you of a style of living. This is stream of consciousness at its most raw; a James Joyce-style dive into the mind of a woman who just lost her dad. Although I still hurt, I do, at my core, believe we can choose to be defined by our grief or grow from it. So, I’m asking you to stand by my side through my process of growth as my father always did.
My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s nearly a decade ago. I started grieving him the day I found out. That grief has gone on for a very long time in mostly small doses. I haven’t created new memories with him in seven years, and as he seemed to forget who he was, I did too. It’s been so long since I’ve fully experienced this person who was once such a significant and influential person in my life.
There are moments when I stand rooted and strong in the kabbalistic teachings on death and grief imparted during the passing of my in-laws, Rav and Karen Berg. Prior to Karen’s transition out of this earthly plane less than a year ago, I had been able to avoid thinking of death, most likely out of fear of it. It’s a fear that is nearly universal, but watching the grace and joy which pervaded Karen’s last days here made my own mortality somehow easier to process. In her final acts of teaching, she guided me to a place of peace, understanding, and acceptance. An understanding that how you live your life will most likely be your experience of it.
Experiencing my father’s mental decline and watching him approach his own death hit differently. After his long bout of dementia, there was a part of me that was almost… excited, for lack of a better word, that his brilliant soul would no longer be held in check by an imperfect body. I truly believe that, because of my certainty and my beliefs in what is waiting for us on the other side. And my belief held true as I saw him wheeled away for the last time, catching a knowing look in his eye. He saw me fully and truly as his daughter one last time.
I have read and been taught that there is a crucial benefit to the concept of pain cleansing a soul before the moment of death; a preparation for reincarnation that can only aid in what comes next for my father.
I have spoken of the gift of a loved one’s passing being an opportunity to let go of our expectations of who they should have been and embrace who they truly were. I have now experienced that fully, leaving behind the father I recalled through the prism of childhood and seeing him as the realized man he always was.
I can recite the stages of grief and the innumerable ways I have and will continue to counsel those who are going through these transitions in their own lives. But as I sit here, 3,000 miles from my new home, among the palm trees and seemingly mocking blue skies of my last home, I am not in one of those neatly defined stages. I am where the books, scholars, and psychology cannot tread. I have wanted him to be okay, to feel okay; no more pain, sadness, or lack. I wanted no more looking back on dreams that never came true. I wanted him to be free. I wanted his soul to soar and find a new home. With all of those wants, I knew I couldn’t influence, dictate, or speed up his final moments. I could only do what my father always did for me in my darkest days: show up for him every day, offering comfort, safety, and unconditional love.
I’ve lost loved ones before. I do believe that to God and to the human condition, one life has no more potential or value than any other. But to me, this one I’m losing now does hold a special place. My father was not a perfect man, but he loved his wife and daughters deeply and profoundly. His greatest wish was for us always to thrive happily.
I am lucky in many ways. I wrote about grief years ago, and I dug that blog up to remind myself of my perspective when I wasn’t in these stageless moments of grief. I am reorganizing those thoughts below, as much as a reminder to myself as an attempt at guidance for anyone in the same battle.
Our depths of grief are directly correlated to the heights of our love. Pure, true, unending love between parents and children, spouses, and best friends can make for the most crushing levels of grief. That breed of loss, that pain, sucks the breath from your body and forever alters the landscape of your life. I told myself four years ago in writing that grief is a vital part of healing but warned against letting it overtake us. If we spin out in pain, we will forget about the healing. I asked you, and myself, these questions:
“What if you could see the grief you feel as the evidence of your incredible capacity to love?”
“What if the deep feelings of loss remind you of how precious your life and everyone in it really is?”
“What if the pain you feel could be alchemized into an even greater ability to be present, to transform, and to live life fully?”
I am trying to ask myself those questions this week, and sometimes I have good answers. And sometimes, I am too overwhelmed to respond, which is part of this process that is different for every person and every loss. At the end of that blog entry, I wrote the following:
“Whether grief is a part of your life today or you are supporting someone through their grief, remember that there is always a choice in every moment. Though you may take umbrage at someone’s urging to “let it go” or to “experience the joy of today”, try to see this as truly sound advice. Blessings cannot rest in a place of sadness. Even if it is as simple as acknowledging that you have a choice, you will be creating a space for the joy that you so deeply deserve.”
Looking back at those words, I’m glad I wrote them. And tonight, tomorrow, or next week, I will accept them as gratefully as they were written.
RETHINK MOMENT: Don’t rethink. Stop thinking. Stop reading. Close your laptop. Tell your loved ones how treasured they are, and be thankful for the passage of time that has allowed your own losses to transform from grief to joy for the ones who have gone before us.