Loss. Such a common part of life and yet we’re always caught off guard. So many of my friends are dealing with loss right now; losing parents, loved ones, pets or jobs. Big losses. The kind that knock you flat on your ass. We all know that they are inevitable and painful and expected and yet, they are so damned random.
I’ve read a couple of things lately that have been very helpful for me as I process my own grief and the pain that I feel for my dear friends. The spiritual teacher Ram Dass wrote a piece where he points out that as we age, our losses accelerate. Our friends and loved ones are dying. We also begin to lose our youth and some of our abilities; we can’t do what we used to be able to do physically or mentally and we mourn that loss.
Let’s bottom line it: dealing with loss is about letting go. That’s it. The reason for learning to let go is training for aging. As we get older, our losses mount and the practice of letting go is more and more important. I was listening to a podcast that said that renunciation does not consist of giving up the things of this world, but in accepting that they go away. Life forces us to become natural renunciates. The things we always knew or relied on or took for granted all go away.
A spiritual practice trains us for this moment. We give up our anger or pettiness or alcohol or gluten (that one is REALLY hard). Small victories that prepare us for the major stuff like death and ill health and divorce. That is the reason we need to train ourselves to let go and not cling. Everything goes away. Everything. That is truth.
Losses hurt. They are incredibly painful and are typically a mixture of guilt, second-guessing, blame, bargaining, what-ifs, anger, resentment. We are overwhelmed as we process how the latest loss will affect our lives and yet, we survive them; over and over. They change us of course, but that is a lesson too; a part of our spiritual practice.
Since my dad’s death, I’ve been much more loving toward others, particularly others who have experienced loss. I am supremely in tune with their feelings and feel a great deal of empathy for them. That is a positive result. I also am aware of my own mortality and that my time is finite. I’m more conscious of how I spend that time and who I spend it with and who I spend it on. I’m not messin’ around anymore.
I feel closer to and more loving toward my family, particularly my mom. I am no longer taking them for granted and our collective grief for my dad has allowed me to see them on a deeper level. Not as siblings, but as 3 dimensional humans. Another positive lesson.
When you suffer a loss, it is always life-changing in some way. It may not be a major event, but all losses are worthy of grief and acknowledgement. Say goodbye and begin the process of letting go. You’ll need those skills more and more.
There are times when life carries you along as if you are royalty in a beautiful horse-drawn carriage. You climb in, wearing your beautiful royal robes and off you go. It’s magic. And then, there are the times when every minute of every hour of every day is a slog. It just happens.
Events conspire to bring that fancy carriage ride to a screeching halt. Death, disappointment, jobs, health, money, kids, relationships, hormones, mortality.
There is a tipping point where the tough stuff outweighs the good stuff and once you slide down, it’s very difficult to climb back up.
Several people have commented that I haven’t been writing much. That’s true. I haven’t felt as if I have anything to share. I have no words of wisdom or insight or encouragement. My carriage is broken and it has been for some time.
I feel like I’m in a partially self-imposed dungeon. My strategies for coping have been few and far between, even though I KNOW what I need to do, I just can’t quite seem to find a rhythm. Meditation, vigorous exercise, yoga, better diet, walking, reading; all have worked in the past. This time, I can’t seem to find a routine that sticks.
Since my dad died in April, 3 of my friends have lost their fathers. So much loss in such a short time brings one’s own mortality to the forefront. You start doing the math; only so many quality years left and really nobody knows how much time we have and personally, I’m feeling just a little panicky and terrified by that.
Logically, I know that spending this time brooding about it is a complete waste. Life goes by so quickly; we all think we have all the time in the world, particularly if you’re under 50. We don’t and it usually takes losing loved ones to really slam that home.
So, there you have it. I’m in right in the middle of a rather debilitating existential crisis. And rather than bore you with it, I’ve been silent and probably not a whole lot of fun to be around. My coping mechanisms suck and I’ve dug a deeper hole.
A dear friend of mine just turned 50 and she wasn’t looking forward to it. I told her that 50 brings a couple of reactions: “Holy shit, I’m 50…over half my life is over” or “Holy shit, I’m frickin’ 50…I no longer have to please everyone”. She has chosen to focus on the latter, while I’m completely mired in the former.
So, off I go. Hoping the planets begin to align my way and that I can shift back into kicking ass and taking names for my sunset years. Be well. Life is short.
The past two months I chose darkness and this period made the Top 5 Most Miserable Times of My Life List. I can’t really pinpoint what is #1 on that list, since my life is ongoing, but it was right up there near the horrible pinnacle.
Everything that led up to this 60 days of darkness has been well-documented in this blog: moving, the death of my dog, a long and brutal winter, regrets, changes and then the final straw, my dad’s sudden death. In other words, life. What knocked me off my axis, was the number of life-altering events that happened over the course of about 7 months. Too much, too quickly.
I’ve gone through some miserable times before, as have all of you. We are humans, walking around on an imperfect earth with other imperfect beings and bad shit goes down for all of us. My problem is that I always assume that it’s because of something I’ve done or didn’t do; some choice that I made or action that I took, that brings the wrath down. That’s my own little self-flagellating punishment that happens and it tends to make the challenging times in my life just a little MORE challenging.
So, after about 50 days of pain and suffering, inflicted mostly by me, I began searching for a remedy. I made a choice. Being in my skin had become unbearable; the urge to drink was overpowering. I almost felt possessed, as if someone else were animating my body and mind. I needed an escape from suffering.
I asked for spiritual guidance; threw it out to the universe and it came. From various sources. People, books, podcasts, nature, stumbling into a peaceful, little metaphysical bookstore in Traverse City. I also made a business trip to Denver that got me out of my dark little place and away from the oppressive energy at home. It was as if a swirling, cleansing wind had surrounded me, sweeping away the smothering black cloud.
That was when something clicked. I woke up, not feeling dread, but feeling whole and open and hopeful. I re-started my yoga practice that had been dormant for months, I finalized the end of a long-term commitment and was able to see clearly into my future with a sense of buoyancy, I heard the morning bird songs and was happy, rather than terrified to slog through another day. This all seems melodramatic, I know, but it’s true. And I’m so grateful.
The whole idea of asking the universe for help has been proven true for me. I reached out in a time of darkness and so many sent blinding light my way. I’m tanned, rested and ready to bloom again. Thank you to those who came to my rescue. Thank you to me, for opening up and basking in that glow and allowing that energy into my life.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t blame yourself when bad things happen. We have choices that are in front of us every single second, of every single day. Feel your pain; surrender to it and then look around for the help and the grace that is always there for us. It could come from nature, church, people, animals, art, music, exercise, meditation; whatever speaks to you, find it. Go there. Life is hard, it really is and anyone who says otherwise is a big, fat liar. Find your light and go toward it.
He died suddenly about 2 and a half weeks ago and it’s been such a whirlwind of wrapping my mom in warmth and security and working to get her out of the house and into an assisted living facility that I haven’t had any time to really grieve or mourn my dad’s absence.
I don’t feel guilt for that; it’s absolutely what my dad would have wanted of us. He was completely committed to my mother and once said that when she died, he wanted to die the next day. The best laid plans, right?
He was taking care of business right up until the moment he died doing lawn work in the back yard and since he raised 4 competent, pragmatic children we knew that he would expect us to step up and take care of the business at hand. So, we did.
Now, I’m thinking about him; about how I can never again pick up the phone to commiserate about our miserable Detroit Lions. My husband can’t call him for apple growing advice or get his opinion on fixing our crooked screen door. During the chaos and bustle immediately after his death, his absence was noted, but now it’s settling over me and I’m feeling the finality of his death.
I started writing this blog several years ago as I began my journey to learn to overcome bad habits, non-productive worries and ultimately let go of my need to control everything. I’ve come a long way on that path and I think that my progress helped immensely in the past few weeks. But now, how do you let go of your dad?
I feel like if I do that, he’s really gone; like a puff of smoke, he will dissipate and no longer be real and that makes me feel awful. But, I also know that I have to allow the realness of his death to sink in. Yes, there are many happy and funny memories, but he’s not here and that feels like part of me has vanished as well.
My dad was over 93 years old and from all appearances, strong and healthy. It almost seems like when someone lives that long,you start to think that maybe they’ll never go. We all marveled as my parents lived into their 80s and late 80s and then into their 90s. I’ve waited so long for the call that one of them was ill or dead, that when it came, I couldn’t grasp that it actually happened. My dad, in particular seemed immortal.
So, now we learn to live with what people call the ‘new normal’, which is code for ‘this situation sucks, but you’ll have to accept and adapt’. And that’s the truth. All of us do it everyday and sometimes it’s a huge sea-change to your normal and sometimes it’s a minor zig zag.
My struggles are no different than anyone else’s. It’s life. It’s why we all have to learn to let go of our fantasies that life can ever be anything other than random and painful. As the Buddhists teach us, we all suffer together as part of the human race. We lose everything that is dear to us and we all die. It’s so obvious and true and yet, we fight it because we hope it can be different. It can’t.
I will hold my dad in my heart and my mind and love him that way. I will look at the faces of my siblings, nieces and nephews and see him in them. So many of us have his eyes and his silly sense of humor. We all love ice cream and pie.
He was able to see our little farm last fall and we have some of his tools and implements that will help us nurture and foster our land and our crops. He hated to see anything go to waste and we will honor him as we plant and harvest and care for my mom. We’re okay dad; you did good.