My dad was a jokester; a “ball buster” to most people. He lit up the room. Life of the party, loved to dance, sing and play with all the kids. He was like the Pied Piper. And more like Danny Kaye than Danny Kaye. More like Bobby Darrin than Bobby Darrin with a little Ricky Ricardo tossed in for good measure. When I was a little kid, I remember watching him sneak up behind mom and blow cigarette smoke into the hole of her beehive hairdo, turning it into what looked like a smoldering volcano. Visiting relatives would laugh hysterically and mom would just smile and roll her eyes. He constantly took the floor at family gatherings to tell “dirty” jokes. Usually the cue was one of my aunts giggling out of nowhere and saying “Hey Jeep, Dictaphone 2-2-2.” I don’t know the whole joke but it must’ve been one of his best because my aunt was always laughing so hard that she could never get the whole sentence out. I do know it involved dad talking as if he had a “harelip” and that was the signal for us to leave the room and “go play”somewhere else. Dictaphone 2-2-2. Two, two, two. Oddly, their room in the assisted living facility in Jersey City they never made it to was a corner room … room 222. And even more oddly, he died on 2/22. Isn’t life’s symmetry a wonderful thing?
Saturday, 2.22.03. 6:10pm …. wow, I’m now noticing it was the same time as my last edit of this blogpost. More symmetry.
Eleven years ago to the date and, this year, the day, I was charged with the biggest decision of my entire life; one that would drastically begin to open a more tender, more resilient place in my heart. At the end of this day, eleven years ago, I would sign a form to have dad removed from life support, watch in disbelief as he took his last breaths and then be rational enough to make the necessary phone calls That awful and unexpected ending would be the beginning of a period of my life that would seem to have quicksand for a foundation and not many branches to grab onto. I’d be on the same slippery slope with Mom who would be gone a month later and all of it would tear me apart for several years. Nothing would ever be the same. Ever.
Life. As it is.
Although this time of year is always difficult, I’m much better at floating along with it these days. Wonderful memories have expanded to occupy a much larger place in my heart than the echoes of loss. But it’s eleven years later. ELEVEN. Why is there still any pain at all? Shouldn’t it be, I dunno, gone by now? Nah. That’s other people talking. There’s no timetable on, or recipe for how to manage, grief. And anyone who insists that you should “get on with life” or “get over it” or “snap out of it” isn’t really thinking of the grieving person. They’re just uncomfortable with THEIR own inability to simply be still, say nothing and be *with* someone in pain. They’d rather YOU smile falsely and make them feel better than be uncomfortable in the silence. I suppose it’s a little like the fear of public speaking … I’m not sure exactly how, and I’m not going to process it here but intuitively it seems to have a similar crunch. Or maybe not. And that’s all okay, too. We all handle things differently; all have different comfort levels.
Here’s the thing, though, if we’re ready to receive them, pain and loss can teach us the biggest and richest lessons on both the grieving end as well as the observer’s end. We can learn so much about ourselves, the human condition, each other, about compassion and about the beauty of standing in the fires of discomfort until there’s a transformational shift. And there always will be if you’re willing to wait for it. I’ve felt it as sure as I’m sitting here writing this. As Pema Chodron beautifully recommends: Don’t run away. Lean in. Sit, stay, heal.
In this eleventh year, I’ve been given another opportunity to more clearly explore my grief, especially since I’m no longer overwhelmed by the emotions. So in THIS round of sadness, I’ve allowed my curiosity to play in the mud and ask some questions: Why am I still holding on to this sadness? What am I really holding onto? I was kind of okay until I realized that this year the DAYS were the same as back then … it’s as if I was looking for something to trigger an emotion. Why am I NOW choosing to romanticize these dates? Do I NEED to feel sad? What is it providing for me? Why am I still telling this story?
At first I started thinking that it was some kind of guilt that was making me hold onto the sadness … some punishment or suffering I subconsciously needed to exact on myself. No. That’s a stretch. There’s nothing to punish myself for. Then I thought, maybe in my subconscious I’m thinking that if I’m not sad I’ll lose them and it’ll be like they were never here. Oh Lord no. Too much psychology. Fact is … they’re NOT here anymore. Not physically, anyway.
And then an odd thought entered my mind. If you’ve ever seen that odd sci-fi film “Enemy Mine,” you know that, during an interesting sounding scene, Louis Gossett’s alien character, Jeriba, sings his lineage for his earth friend Davidge and teaches it to him while they are trapped together. Jeriba dies after giving birth to his son Zammis, but before that happens he makes Davidge promise to take care of Zammis, teach the lineage to him and return him to his Drac homeland. Here’s the clip from the end of the film in which you’ll hear the sound of Dennis Quaid “singing” (gurgling) the names of all of Zammis’ ancestors as he presents the child to the council of elders: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsxFQHWUxnU
AHA!!! I recite the story and access the emotions to remember and to keep my lineage alive!!! And THEN … It occurred to me that there might be more to it. Perhaps, I recall the events and the subsequent emotions every year not so much as a means of remembering my “lineage” but, also to remember and assess the strength of my own evolution through the fires and quicksand of grief. This lineage, coupled with the connection to my inner self, is what has moved me toward continued evolution. Dad and mom, while not here physically, haven’t really gone anywhere. Their physical walls might have collapsed but their spirits reside deep within me, informing me and challenging me on many levels every day. Before he died dad said, “Don’t worry, Daddy will always take care of you.” And he truly has over these eleven years. His spiritual presence makes itself known often. Mom, not so much.
So each year, late in the winter, I choose to take the pilgrimage to the altar of mourning, loss and memories. And if I lean in, if I *Sit* and *Stay* … I can access and marinate in the juices of my own vulnerability which will allow me to continue to *Heal.* My heart, shriveled and frozen by the winter of life’s trajectory, has the opportunity to melt again and is refreshed, ready to blossom. I revisit the story as the means of preserving and protecting the depth and breadth of my tender, loving heart. And during the winter when everything is a little icy, that’s a really good thing.
One fine day, I’ll no longer need the teachings found at that altar. But, until then ….
Thank you, dad and mom, for leaving during a winter storm and preparing me for the spring thaw and new blossoms every year.
Thank you for shaping and polishing my “jeriba lineage” … the story of ME.
Lucky me … so very grateful.