Grief and Embracing a Deathaversary
A year ago today my dad died. I drove the four and a half hours to Eugene as soon as I heard. My mother wouldn’t let me or my sister, who had been with him when he died, to visit the body afterwards—she didn’t want us to remember him that way. I remember we waited a long time for the funeral people to come and take away his body. My brother arrived later that day and my sister-in-law came the following morning. It was comforting to be with them when our emotions were so raw. Especially because we had just been through this with our brother.
Many of you know that my brother Jeff died from non-smoker lung cancer last year in between my two cancers, since I wrote about it in my book. You may not know that I also lost my dad that same year. I didn’t include his death in my book because frankly, it was just too much. Too much grief. Too much hardship to add to the already impossible amount of sadness I dealt with in 2015: my second cancer diagnosis in January, my brother’s death in February, the loss of my breasts, hair and strength from chemo (again) all through the summer and then the loss of my dad in September. 2015: The Worst Year Ever. Grief was ever present. Now, a year later, the grief comes and goes.
Grief is different for everyone and however you process it is perfectly right for you. I’ve heard it described as waves that at first have you feel like you’re drowning and then you’re treading water and then they just knock you over out of the blue every so often. That’s where I’m at now. I don’t feel as often like I’ll break into tears at a passing thought, but if I think too long about either one of them, I can easily and quickly well up. Which is not to say that I don’t think about my brother and father. I do—I feel strongly that it’s important to think about them and talk about those who have left us. It’s how they stay alive. But I do get caught off guard by a sneaker wave now and then, like when I saw my brother’s favorite tea Mariage Frères in the beach house cupboard two weeks ago. I caught my breath and tears sprang to my eyes.
In the Jewish tradition, observing the death day of a loved is called yahrzeit. A 24 hour candle is lit, one says a memorial prayer, and the spirit of the dead person fills the room for that day. I’m not Jewish but this seems like a tradition I’d like to adopt. It’s similar to the Mexican Day of the Dead but occurs on the actual death day, a day which will always be etched in our hearts.
So today my thoughts are with my father (and my mother and siblings). My funny, smart, kind father who taught us so much, not the least of which was to love unconditionally. Today I honor him and the huge impact he had on countless people’s lives.
And in embracing this deathaversary, I also want to honor the circle of life and realize that death is a natural part of the gift of being alive. If I’ve learned anything in these past challenging three years, it is that life is precious. Make the most of the time you have. With my precious time left on Earth, I plan to follow my father’s example by making a difference for people and by spreading love and kindness.
To your health,