I was 16 when my mother tragically and unexpectedly died. Since that time I have read countless books, thoroughly researched the grieving process and spoken with numerous therapists, pastors, life coaches, authors, academics and other experts in the field of death and grieving. I had become an expert in the field of grieving.
And just when I think I have a handle on the dying and grief phenomenon, when I think I'm at a point where I can detachedly and impartially dissect it all, it happens to me again.
My father died on July 25th.
I went back to Texas to attend his memorial, spread his ashes, go through his home and sort his personal belongings and financial affairs.
I struggled for two weeks with his death and my grief and what it all meant. After weeks of emotional highs and lows and tuning in and out of reality I came back home. Depleted. Drained. Utterly exhausted.
My heart told me that our souls are here for a short amount of time to experience life on this planet. To create. Have relationships. Learn about each other and about oneself. But my mind screamed out, "I want my Daddy back! I can't talk with him anymore! I can't hear his jokes. Or get his advice. He's gone! Forever!"
This is what I tried rationalizing all week while being back in Texas. The reality of what my mind was telling me, and what my heart knew to be true -- the eternality of where his soul actually was.
I was discussing this with a friend of mine. Asking him why it hurt so much. I felt I was spiritually evolved and knew that my dad's soul, his energy, had just been transformed into another form. He simply left his physical earthly body and his soul had moved on elsewhere. But even though I knew that, why did it hurt so much? I cried every day. My heart was literally broken. And I wondered when I would laugh again.
And his answer was simple, "Because you're still human. Your soul came here to experience emotions like this. So allow yourself to feel."
It was good advice. But I'm not one who likes to be told what to do. So instead, I did what I do best. I shoved those feelings all the way down, and buried them somewhere deep so I didn't have to process them.
Well that worked (or so I thought) until I walked into my kitchen to make lunch on Monday afternoon, two weeks after my dad's passing. I reached up on a shelf for a bowl to make a salad. It was my grandmother's bowl. I loved it dearly because it was hers and her very same hands had prepared meals in this bowl the way that mine did now.
I still don't know exactly how it happened, but the next thing I know the bowl slipped. I watched helplessly in slow motion as it landed on the floor with an explosive, thundering crack and it shattered into hundreds of pieces.
My tears started mid-fall. Heavy tears. The kind of sobbing that is uncontrollable. I fell down. Right there on my kitchen floor amongst the broken pieces of the bowl. The bowl was broken. Shattered. Forever. My dad was dead. Gone. Forever. The more I related the two the heavier I cried. He was gone and there was nothing I could do to change it. I was angry. I screamed. I cried. I shouted. And I cried some more.
I stayed there until I had cried it all out. I didn't rush to get up or do anything else other than to feel the depth of my hurt. And it was there amongst the broken pieces that I found peace. I felt a peaceful calmness that came over me that is unexplainable. I heard a voice say to me that it was OK to know my dad's soul was elsewhere, but it was still OK to miss him in a physical sense.
We live in such a structured society, where everything is broken down into steps or organized in a rational way. But there is no rationalizing grief. And although there are great resources and models such as the Kübler-Rossfive stages of grief, there is no time limit. There is no right or wrong. There is only expression of our grief.
One of the greatest lessons in life is that everything is impermanent. All things come and go. It is the same with human lives. We all die. We will most likely all lose someone we love. Grief is not a phase that you go through and then move on with your life. It's a lifelong journey and we learn to cope the best we can after our loved ones pass on.
We are so quick to try and get back on track. To get on with reality. To be in control of our lives. The minute we even begin to shed a tear, we sniffle and try to hold it in, showing how in control of our emotions we are.
What I've learned from my dad's death is to feel every emotion fully and completely. Don't hold back. Whatever little ache or pain or ounce of sadness you feel in your heart, don't bury it. Feel it. Express it. Process it. And maybe, just maybe, you'll find your own peace after you've allowed yourself to fall to pieces.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.