First posted: 09/16/2015
My father died August 2015 at the age of 87 years old after eight long difficult months of gradual decline dotted by four hospitalizations. His heart and kidneys were too weak to continue despite the maximum medical therapy he requested. My support system - my husband and family, close friends, and a very trusted insightful therapist – has helped me immensely in navigating the waters of my father’s last months. I started to grieve the loss of my father as I knew him in mid-December last year when he had a big slide in health, however his death of course brought finality to the loss. As I’ve surrendered to and accepted the process of losing one’s father I’ve realized that though his body is gone, his spirit lives on in me and others whose lives he touched as a stained glass artist, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a friend. I’ve lost my father but I’ve gained a heightened awareness of who I am because of him. I’ve realized again, and perhaps more strongly now than ever before, that with death or other significant loss or change there can also be significant growth if only one feels, listens, looks, and allows it to be. And so it is.
As difficult and painful as it can be, illness can also be transformative if we accept and appreciate it as a sign of imbalance at our core and seek new ways of seeing and being that bring us back into balance. One of my current favorite authors, American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron, describes in her book Start Where You Are: “It’s all raw material for waking up … as long as you can go deeper, underneath the story line … that’s where you connect with what it is to be human, and that’s where the joy and well-being come from – from the sense of being real and seeing realness in others.” She writes “Whether it’s connecting with the genuine heart of sadness and the messy areas of our lives, or connecting with vision and expansion and openness, what’s real is all included in well-being; it’s all included in joy. Joy is not about pleasure as opposed to pain or cheerfulness as opposed to sadness. Joy includes everything.” Another of my favorite writers and bloggers, Rick Hansen of Marin County, recently wrote on this topic too, on the value and wisdom of saying yes to whatever comes our way be it something or someone loving and joyful or something or someone painful. Pema Chodron also expands on the essential quality of being compassionate, with others and especially to start with ourselves. The messages of being compassionate and being real seem to me to be core components of a life path of healing and renewal and a life fully lived in peace, joy and sharing of each of our gifts.
I have over my life so far come to see that our being healthy and optimally functional really comes down to not only the right foods, supplements, activity level, medications etc but especially being whole as a spirit. And the big stressful events in our lives – whether illness, death, other oss, or even positive changes – can be the greatest catalysts for spiritual transformation and growth if we accept the pain (or joy) and find the meaning in it. Who my father was has been on the one hand very difficult for me in my life. Because he was very poor, lost his mother at age 11, and had a very physically disciplinarian father, he developed into a quiet – often depressed and anxious - workaholic. He was quite physically and emotionally absent to me in my life and I had to over time process and understand his influence on me so that I could grow beyond it. At the same time I am most grateful to my father passing onto me his work ethic, persistence, and stamina. I am especially grateful that as an artist he passed onto me patience, curiosity, and the appreciation and ability to see things in life through different lenses. Looking, seeing, and feeling everything and eventually finding meaning in life’s events can, I believe, be our greatest source of healing, renewal and well being.