Many probably associate “life after death” with religious tenets or speculations. I don’t think about religion so much, as I have spiritual beliefs that aren’t mired in unflinching gospel. In the last year, when confronted with the transition of my 93 year old father, life after death took on completely new meaning.
I’ve spent 30+ years considering how my soul may make its own transition and what continuing existence may be like on the other side of the veil. It’s fascinating; I’ll likely pick that up again as I move along in this lifetime. Life after death, though, captured a literal meaning that I could only imagine before losing my father. As it gently commands, on this 1st anniversary of his crossing, I’m taking time to look back on how my life has changed after his death.
The most significant adjustment is persistent, where the emotional and mental understanding – that a parent has died – plunges deeper as time goes on. Sometimes it steals the breath from my lungs. In those moments, I realize again that I’ll never get the chance to talk with my father, hold his hand, listen to his fears, dry his tears.
In the last years of his life, he was unfortunately angry, resentful, controlling and loud. He never wanted to leave my mother’s side, his wife of 73 years who no longer recognized him. My father claimed that it was up to him to “protect her,” but really, her familiar face gave him comfort, her blushing cheeks offering a touchstone to a life they’d known together undeniably slipping away. Frankly, it was sad to watch, but now I wish I could peek at his natural reach for her hand one more time.
Life after a father’s death has strained my relationship in all kinds of ways. The grief has interfered with the ability to concentrate, work effectively or ponder creativity, and triggered a tendency to isolate from the outside world. The loss of one parent tossed me to the wolves, the unforgiving churning of night to day to night. Life goes on, as they say, in its unrelenting mundaneness. It really does, and it seems so cruel.
It’s been necessary to check out, sleep more, binge watch. Fetid emotions held me hostage for days, even weeks, at a time. I learned to welcome the stillness of long stares into the distance. I wrestled with staying put when all I wanted to do was drive on an open road to nowhere in particular or board a plane destined for Iceland. The latter loiters in my uneasy mind, so we’ll yet see if I make a run for the frigid landscapes of that island nation.
Has there been a turning point? Yes, though not by design. Intuitively, I abandoned any notion of a timeline for grief. As I slowly returned to the world, I embraced the familiar, rosy cheeks of mundane chores. There was that first time I walked into the gym, shopped for groceries, took Sophie to the park. My husband and I made plans for nearby vacations to Vancouver B.C. and Portland, Oregon. It helped us reconnect, making space for a little laughter.
I also embraced a plan for life-work balance, taking long-put-off piano lessons, reading crime novels, baking new treats, visiting museums and adding energy foods to my daily diet. Changes to the ‘work’ part are coming into focus as well.
Life untethered to a parent feels okay. After all, I can still spend time with my mother and her smile. In death’s wake, I get to reflect on lives past, the ground I stand on today and entertain possibilities for crafting a future life with my own small and precious family. I am still breathing, still crying, still finding humor and sadness in it all. Sometimes, it seems too much, and yet, I go on . . . as they say.