Lessons from Loss: The Final Chapter
One glad morning, when this life is over
I'll fly away
My daddy always said that being black would kill him before smoking did. He was wrong. Smoking may have been his trusted buddy to take the edge off, but it played an essential role in his early demise. It would be during the early morning hours of November 22nd, 2017 when he vowed to himself and the doctor tending to him that he wouldn’t pick up another pack. He was right.
Grief is an interesting concept, because the experience is unique to each person that carries the unbearable weight. Personally, I would compare it to being punched so hard that you black out. You come to feeling dazed, confused and with no real memory of how you got there. If you’ve ever spent an extended amount of time in a hospital whether as a patient or visitor, there’s no real concept of time. Regardless of the time of day, you’re waiting. Just waiting. There is also no real range of emotions. You just have the beautiful highs and the life shattering lows.
Soon after my dad’s funeral, I returned to DC and did what any logical person would... I turned to Google. I knew this unwanted visitor, grief, would soon visit me and I would need to be prepared. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are the five stages of grief. I proclaimed this as my road map to healing as I tried to navigate my new life that was overshadowed by this dark cloud. I soon realized that these may have been the stages of someone’s grief, but they surely were not mine.
To be honest, I was traumatized by my dad’s hospital stay. The stinging shine of the fluorescent lights kept me awake as I tried to sleep in the waiting room. The nagging sound of machines charged to keep weak bodies alive ringed in my ears. The cries of families grieving their loved ones who were near their end is permanently etched in my memory. I didn’t need anyone to tell me my dad was proud and looking down on me. What I truly needed was for someone to give me a handbook on how to deal with this new chapter.
It would take a while, but I soon realized that grief is mysterious and it loves to keep you guessing. There have been many days, weeks even, that life goes on with my dad’s death being compartmentalized to the furthest corner of my mind. There are other days where the pain sneaks up so quickly that I’m left catching my breath. It’s on the latter days that I’m often transported back to the grimness that is the ICU of a hospital. It’s those days that I’m transported back to the moment I called 911 when this nightmare started. It’s those days that I have to remind myself that I’m here in the present and can’t live in the past. I can’t live in a world shaped by the unknown of yesterday’s tragedy.
People talk about grief in terms of losing someone else , but they rarely talk about the grief of losing yourself. I often wonder what went through my dad’s mind the last days of his life. I wonder if he thought about the choices he had made, good and bad, and the lasting impact they had on himself and those around him. I wonder if he wished that he had been able to break his smoking habit years earlier even though he surely tried, but to no avail. I wonder if he thought about his future and all the things he had put off until he “had more time”. I wonder if he thought about the parts of the world that were calling his name, but he would never get to visit, leaving his newly acquired passport forever empty. I wonder at what point did he realize that he wasn’t going home and that there was no more time to be had. No more time to wonder.
Oddly enough, joy is an antonym of grief. It’s hard for me to grasp at times, but I learned so much about myself through my dad’s death. As I mentioned, people rarely talk about grieving the old you. People rarely talk about the mirrors you must hold up to yourself when you’re faced with the physical loss of another. Grief challenges you to a grueling duel and there are only two outcomes. Either you win or grief does. It wants you to stay there and wrestle with it into eternity. It doesn’t want you to see what waits on the other side...joy. In questioning what my dad’s last days were like, it made me look at how I was living my own life. It was a couple of years ago at work when I read an article that included the phrase “let me not die while I am still alive”. It struck me because that’s what I had desperately needed to hear years earlier after my accident when I was here, but not actually present. It was this phrase I remembered as I felt myself taking a deep dive into a familiar area filled with bone-shaking grief. It took a while, but I found my way out.
To a land where joy shall never end, oh
I'll fly away
I’ll Fly Away is one of my favorite tracks on Kanye’s College Dropout album. My dad listened to old school, so I’m not sure what he felt about this type of music. However, I wonder if my dad knew that he did not have to wait until this life was over to find joy. I wonder if he knew that he didn’t have to fly away to find the type of joy that people spend their whole lives searching for. I wonder if he knew that joy could be discovered right here, on earth.
Joy isn’t in the shoulda-coulda-woulda moments of life. It’s in the moments we decide to fully live every day. It’s in those precious moments when we remember that this life isn’t forever. It’s the other side of the mountain that we’ve been climbing for years. It’s in the midst of the trauma that we’ve been healing. It’s in those canceled relationships and missed opportunities. It’s in our current pain that we’ve been praying away. Sometimes it’s hidden, but deep down it’s always there. It’s in those everyday miracles, like breathing, that come so naturally we have the audacity to call them ordinary.