My dad died unexpectedly last week at age 68. What followed were days of travel, writing, grieving, and meaning making. I experienced sadness and the supportive love of others holding me through it. After my intense week of grief and gratitude, I want to share my experiences as they unfolded through my personal and public writing. May this post encourage you to process your pain through written words, making meaning of a life that can sometimes feel so meaningless. Writing has carried me through much pain in my past. Writing carries me today through this complex mourning.
My writings from my week of grief:
October 2 – The Day of My Dad’s Death
The talk in church Sunday was about letting go. I didn’t know I would be letting go of my dad.
I am crying and crying now. Time to mourn again what was, what never was, and what never will be. He is free now.
Today I saw my dad for the last time. It was such a sad and meaningful day. My mom, sister, aunt, brother-in-law and I had our own impromptu service for him as we were circled around my dad. We played songs he and we loved and told honest, hard, and happy stories. We cried, kissed him, and said goodbye in our own ways. I wrote a letter to send with him into eternity. We laid roses on his chest. I massaged his feet. I did not want to say goodbye.
It hurts knowing I can’t hold him again. I can’t rub his feet again. I can’t see his smile or hear him say “I love you.” I can’t call him. He’s gone.
Today I’ve remembered his whole life. He suffered so much and made my life incredibly hard at times. We never experienced closure on serious conflicts. I had so much hate toward him before today. But today that hate dissipated and I saw him. I forgave him. I released him. There is so much I wished went differently and so much I am grateful for.
Thank you for loving me through this. I feel your love.
This rose. After dad’s death Wednesday this rose blossomed outside mom’s window. This rose doesn’t face the light like the others. It’s turned towards the glass. When we raise the blinds, this rose gazes back at us. This red rose is a messenger of love. It holds my dad’s love for us in these fresh days of grief. It whispers of love he gave freely and wanted to give but couldn’t. A body and brain beaten down with suffering and wounds he never escaped, blunted his ability to love in this life. Still, he tried. I cherish memories of moments his love broke through. Now, he is free. Those chains are gone. He is embraced in arms of infinite love. He visits us in this rose, reminding us that his love remains. He is finally free to love and be loved.
I feared my dad’s death many times. His drinking wreaked havoc, leaving him homeless for years. Disappearing for weeks, he would eventually turn up in jail or a hospital. Unwilling to wait, sometimes I searched the streets for him and sometimes I found him. Relieved that he was alive, I drove him to detox. We’d sing along to Keith Green as he cried in drunken remorse. This felt like connection. Those were scary, confusing times. In 2008 I wrote a poem about this process, describing these experiences and the pain that accompanied them. I call this poem the Path of Pain:
Peering through the underbrush
The bushes moist with dew
My eyes review a lonesome camp
And note the solitude
“Papa, are you down there?”
My quivering question looms
I walk down the buried path
His death my heart assumes
Strewn across a clearing’s floor
The shrapnel of dad’s disease
Can a hundred Buds so satisfy
Or only the first drink?
Silence is a peeler
Against my soul’s soft skin
Seconds slide, I bleed the pain
That seeps from missing him
Hope evolves to anger
Questions maul my mind
Branded by my loathing love
By which I am defined.
It’s a miracle my dad lived as long as he did. When we surrounded his body Thursday to say our long goodbyes, I set my phone on his pillow, playing him Keith Green one last time. Oh, the memories. Oh, the pain. No more searching. My Papa is home.
I experienced a range of emotions this week. Sadness settled on me as I saw and sat with my daddy’s body. I felt compassion as I thought about his life of suffering. I felt gratitude for a heroic mother, a generous and growing sister, an aunt who took the baton of responsibility for my dad, a wonderful wife who cared for our children so I could take this pilgrimage of healing. I felt thankful for men who mentored me when my father’s love fell out of grasp and women whose care comforted me in my wounds. I feel new reverence for life itself and the worth of a human being. My commitment to my kids is through the roof, as I profoundly realize the impact of a father’s love or lack thereof. I cherish my wife and want to love her more. I know now that love is the legacy we leave. Relationships matter most.
When I put my 6 year old son to bed tonight I told him the story of how his grandpa would waddle into the store like a duck and we would waddle behind him like little ducklings. My tears fell as I told him. It’s good to be home.
Wow, what a powerful video. I can relate to this. I mourn not only the death of my dad but also the death of a potential relationship that never was. I also imagine the relationship my dad could have had with his grandkids, had he never lost his life to alcoholism and untreated mental illness. This is complex grief.
My dad was pronounced dead at 1:10pm on October 2. After a little digging, I just discovered what I was doing when his last breath left him. I was watching the music video Hero by Mariah Carey. This holds strong significance to me but not in the way you might imagine.
The song is about being your own hero.
When I saw my dad’s body the next day, I tucked away with him a goodbye letter to take on his journey. One sentence from my letter read “In the ways you couldn’t be my daddy, I choose to father myself.” In that moment, I freed him from the responsibilities of being my father. Releasing him, I reassured him, “I got this from here.”
“So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you.”
As with all stories, there is so much more to be shared. I want to tell you how I experienced the miracle of forgiveness and the surprising circumstances surrounding that. These stories are to come as I continue writing my memoir. The writing continues and so does the healing.
Wishing you all comfort, healing, and meaning,