April 20, 2015. That is the day that I lost my Dad. Nine months ago, a phone call came that he was gone & my journey through the wilderness of grief began.
Nine months seems to weigh heavily on me. The number of months I so strongly associate with life, is today intermingled with death & loss. For nine months, I nurtured life within me. My beautiful daughters, hearts dependent upon mine, sustained by my body, growing within my womb.
For nine months I watched my belly grow bigger, and waited with eager anticipation for the chance to meet that little human being growing inside of me. The birth of a child, a time filled with so much hope & so many dreams.
But today, nine months feels very different. It is laden with sorrow & disbelief still.
My father is gone. And his death by suicide shattered me. The work of gathering up the pieces is done. And now comes the task of creating myself anew. The life I now nurture and tend to, is my own. What parts of me remain and what parts of me are newly shaped and formed by the trauma and loss that I’ve experienced? And where do they all fit?
I reflect back upon those ultrasounds with each of my children, watching them grow, cell by cell, muscle by muscle and limb by limb. The miracle of it all took my breath away. Every stage of their budding lives & selves, captured in black & white.
Is that what is happening to me? It feels as if it is. And yet, it doesn’t feel miraculous. It is hard, it is strange and it hurts. If I were to capture the images on film, would I even recognize parts of the me I was before? Or would they be too muddled, lost in a fuzzy haze of gray?
And what about the life that I lost? The father that is no longer with me. How do I hold onto him? Over these nine months I have struggled to let go of the trauma, the pain & the questions that ruminate. I do not want to carry them inside me. I do not want them to grow & fester. And as I try to let go of all of that, I fight to hold on to the essence of who my father was to me.
Nine months later, I look to find him in life, not by looking forward. Now, I can only find him in the looking back. That is a strange and painful contrast. There will be no more firsts, no more milestones, no more pictures or memories made. There is only what was. So in my heart, I nurture that. With each photo, each remembrance, each story or recollection, I breathe oxygen into the embers and I sustain within me, the life that I shared with my father. The love that we shared is and will always be a part of me, though it must now be in different form. It is only in spirit that I can touch him now.
The man who helped to bring me into this world, is no longer here. The person that I was before he left, will never be the same. But nine months later, a new me is taking form. I carry within me the best of who I was, and the hard & painful lessons of loss. Scars are still so fragile, a little nick, a tiny scratch, a gentle bumping into… and the wounds reopen. But I know it won’t always be so. I will create a new mosaic, a reflection of self that will be at once familiar and different. Grief will not define me, but it will, it must, redefine parts of me. Like the formation of a new cell, like blood coursing through my veins, it is now a part of me. And so too is the resilience that strengthens me and restores the very fiber of my being.
Nine months. Today it signifies life and loss. It is a reminder of all that was and what can no longer be. It holds both pain and promise. He is gone, but I am here. I am still his daughter, he is still my father. I must learn to live with his final footnote. But our story will not end. It is in me. It is in my children. It is in my mother, my brother and every sacred memory I cleave to. A life sustained, tucked deeply in my soul for safekeeping. And a life, my life, recreated, built from the wreckage and held together by love, by memories and the ties that will forever bind us.
Once I heard the sound of my children’s heartbeat, beating within me. Perhaps, if I listen closely now, I’ll be able to hear my father’s as well.
Birth is a beginning and death a destination;
But life is a journey, a sacred pilgrimage,
Made stage by stage… To life everlasting. (Rabbi Alvin I. Fine)