I still remember how cold my whole body felt when my sister called and said:” Can you please come home as fast as possible, we don’t know how much time Dad has left.” Feelings of disbelief, shock, fear, grief, sadness, anger and the worry that I would not be home to see my Dad before he died were my constant companions until I finally sat in the plane. At the same time I felt numb as I was getting ready and doing what needed to be done.
My heart was aching as I sat there. Thoughts of how my life would be without my Dad brought me to tears. How everything would be different. I was imagining how I would feel in a world without him. Those thoughts and the feelings, they brought up, were very painful.
In a way I tortured myself with them. He was still alive, yet I felt deep grief and sadness, brought on by these thoughts.
“This is breaking my heart” I thought at some point.
Part of me wanted to dive into that pain, that sadness. I wanted to feel sorry for myself for losing my Dad. Wrap myself in this coat of grief, sadness and loneliness. I knew that I would feel grief, sadness and many other feelings, why not start dealing with them now?
It felt like the thing to do, normal, even expected. “But how could I know how I would feel after my Dad had died, how could I even imagine?
Does it really have to break my heart”?
I suddenly heart this voice asking me. It made me stop. “ Does my Dad’s death really have to break my heart or can I choose to feel differently? Do I have a choice? What if these feelings could open my heart instead of breaking it? What if I could acknowledge all the feelings I will experience in the next days? What would happen? Do I have to grieve now even though he is still alive? What could I do differently?
How could I stop myself from thinking of the days to come and be present to whatever is happening in the moment?
Would I even be a good daughter if my heart didn’t break when my Dad died? Would I be judged? Would I judge myself? Who expected me to have a broken heart? What good can a broken heart do?
What if I could stay as present as possible to any emotion that I would feel and then acknowledge it and let it have its place? Let the present feelings be there. Could I keep my heart open and risk even more pain and hurt by doing so?
I decided to pay attention to strong feelings, to ask myself if it was a feeling that I was experiencing in the moment or was it a feeling caused by thinking about possible future scenarios. I felt relieved and calmer after making this decision. It sounded simple but it wasn’t always easy.
Did I have to prove my love by breaking my heart? I wondered if there was anything that needed to be said, anything that needed to be repaired between us. I knew that my Dad loves me, he had told me. I knew that my Dad knows how much I love him. Being aware that we didn’t have any unfinished business, no regrets, felt like a big relief.
It made me aware that I could just be present to whatever would unfold. I realized, I didn’t have to prepare myself for anything. I remembered that I have the tools to attend to whatever feelings would come up in those moments. There have been many moments when I wanted to shut down, when I wanted to feel hurt, offended.
One time I massaged my Dad’s hand and he abruptly moved his hand away. I felt rejected. Having made the decision to acknowledge my feelings as they came up, I was able to step back, put them aside until I had time to process them. Often I realized that it wasn’t anything personal at all. Maybe he was in pain. Sometimes I don’t feel comfortable if someone touches me.
I promised myself that when I got there that I would acknowledge my feelings, that I would take time to take care of myself. I decided to use EFT tapping on any strong emotions, or before I would automatically react.
I knew that it would be an intense time for us. I was certain that I, my sisters, my parents might say or do things that would affect the others negatively. I hoped that I would be able to say:” I am so sorry, this isn’t what I meant. I am tired, overwhelmed and sad and I didn’t think, I just reacted automatically.”
I wondered if I could be present enough to honour whatever would happen. I didn’t want to be so sad that my only focus would be on grief or pain. I wondered if this could be a normal part of our journey together.
I now remember one January afternoon where I went for a walk in the woods. I was sobbing loudly, I felt so tired, sad, overwhelmed and exhausted. Suddenly it started to snow and I stuck out my tongue to catch the big fluffy snowflakes, as I had done countless times as a little girl. The melting snow on my tongue filled me with joy, happiness and I felt unbound joie de vivre. Even though, and maybe because I was able to be there with my Dad during his last weeks, I was filled with so much love, appreciation and happiness. Yes, happiness.
I was happy to be there, even though it was so hard, so intense, so incomprehensible yet so normal, so beautiful and joyful at the same time. I would never trade this experience for anything. My Dad gave us a beautiful gift as a family. We grew closer together; we saw sides of each other we had not seen before.
During this time we played cards together, laughed, joked, cried and together we did what we could for the man we all love so much. We were able to fulfill his wish to die at home.
In the plane I had no idea what would happen, how I would feel, how I would react or what steps I would have to take. I didn’t and couldn’t know that again and again I had to remind myself to be present, to decide where my thoughts would go and how many feelings I would have to deal with.
Luckily we don’t know what the future holds for us. It would sometimes be overwhelming and would weigh us down. Until we face a situation we really don’t know how we will respond. We can guess but often it’s quite different. We don’t know how strong, how resilient, how capable we are until we encounter a new experience.
Even in my wildest imaginations could I have imagined all the things I mastered during this time.
I learned that I can feel many feelings at the same time. There is room for sadness and laughter beside each other.
I never thought that I could play cards, laugh and joke with my sisters while my Mom sat with my Dad dying in their room. In the past I might have judged someone severely for doing so. Now I know that life goes on, has to go on even when the life of a loved one is ending.
Some days it feels so unreal that my Dad is not here anymore. My heart and mind have a hard time understanding this. Like his dying was a process, my grief is a process that I have to go through.
As I did then, I am trying to be as present as possible, I try not to wonder how I will feel on my first Father’s day, my birthday or our first Christmas without my Dad. Why add some pain, why create pain that may not be as intense as I think it might be.
I encourage myself to trust my process, my heart and my mind and to take one step at a time.