It is March and this month marks twenty years since my Father, your Grandfather, died. It was not my first experience of grieving a loved one but it was by far the most intense and powerful.
My first experience of grief happened when I was twelve. My thirteen year old cousin died from leukaemia. I remember vividly when we were told the news, I went up into the back yard and sat on the edge of the sandpit. There was a beautiful clear blue sky above me and as the hot sun warmed the top of my head, I tried to make sense of my sadness. There was a large gum tree in our yard next to the garden shed and I watched the branches sway in the breeze. Everything was seemingly normal except for the feelings swirling inside me. I did not speak of my grief to anyone, I didn’t know how.
Over the years I have experienced the loss of other relatives and some friends. There have been times when the massive grief of losing my Father has resurfaced. It occurred when my first adult relationship ended and the thought of having to live through it again frightened me so much that I vowed to close my heart and never give it to another again.
However, the caged bird always yearns to fly and my closed heart always yearned to love, and be loved. So I set out on a strange path seeking love and whenever I felt I was close to finding it, I sabotaged the situation. The memory of grief was so great it trumped even the glorious benefits of finding love with another.
I was on a trajectory, not towards anything or anyone, but away from my grief. I tried to outrun it and occasionally it would catch up with me. It was begging to be resolved, to be looked at and acknowledged. I tried ignoring it, I tried drowning it in alcohol, I tried to convince myself it had been so long now that I ‘should be over it’. But I wasn’t over it. It was all over me.
When cancer gave me the beautiful gift of striping me back to the bare basics, everything was revealed. I had to relive grief once more and I had an unimaginably wondrous understanding of its true nature. It is a magnificent opportunity to shed all of your layers, to get back to who you are. It is an opportunity to embrace our vulnerability. To cry and to express our sadness is a necessary part of our human experience. I recognise now that it is a dynamic time and supremely potent.
I recall a friend telling me how beautiful she thought I looked the first time she saw me after my Father died. I did not really understand what she meant until recently. I met a woman who had lost her husband a year earlier. Her eyes sparkled like sapphires as her raw emotions were just below the surface. She had an incredible beauty which I now know, was her vulnerability radiating to all those around her. Vulnerability is not weak, it is powerful beyond measure.
It is a deeply personal experience which you must respect and yield to. It knows no time limits. Allow it to envelope you, experience it fully and profoundly. Be the grief. If you don’t do this it will not leave you.
I have thought a lot about death these past five years. Regardless of what is happening in our lives, we are all terminal. We will all die to complete the circle.
My Father let me know time and time again that his essence did in fact go on without his physical body. One month after his death I awoke during the night to find myself above the covers of the bed. I became aware that he was in the room and as I reached out to touch him and breathed his name, I had a recognition that he could not be touched. However, I could sense him everywhere. Then I experienced something I shall call ecstasy even though the feeling was so much greater than that word could possibly describe. He shared with me the bliss of what we call the ‘afterlife’ so I could have an understanding of what was to come after I died.
Over the years he came to me in dreams and showed me apartments I was yet to live in or to advise me against choices I was about to make. Even though the proof was there that he was still very much around, I continued to carry my grief through life like a barbed, heavy orb locked up and out of sight.
Seamus, don’t let your grief feed a fear based belief about life. Allow grief to be the incredible awakening to your true self, and to life itself, that I feel it is meant to be. Remember that there is a divine plan. Each soul has its own adventure. When that soul disembarks from the physical form the journey is not over.
Even though my perception of what happens when we die is limited, it is safe for me to say to you, that I will never leave you. Just as my Father has never left me. Even though one day I won’t walk the path beside you in my physical body, it is then that I will be everywhere. You will find me in your dreams, in the lyrics of a song, in the apparent co-incidence that paves the way for you to realise a wish.
Whether I am here with you for another year or another thirty years, keep your heart open and know that death is not the end. It is merely a new way of relating and an opportunity to be the purest love possible once more.
“When we have done all the work we were sent to do, we are allowed to shed our bodies, which imprisons our soul like a cocoon encloses the butterfly and when the time is right we can let go of it. Then we will be free of pain, free of fears and free of worries— free as a beautiful butterfly returning home to God” – Elisabeth Kübler-Ross