This was not easy to write and it’s not easy to read. But it is important to me and to people who have said goodbye to loved ones. If you do read it, read it gently and with kindness for yourself and the people in your life who have lost someone.
To the ones who passed and the ones left behind.
After all these years, I still remember the feeling of the soft hand in my hand. His hand, that used to be tough and hardened by years of looking after his beautiful garden and from the wild adventures with the three of us. The hand I held that day had shed the tough skin and new, softer skin had replaced it. The unnatural change came slowly in months of hospital care and I don’t remember when I noticed it first, but I remember that it was the soft hand I said farewell to under the golden October sun.
When I think of him on this day, I feel the beauty and the radiance. The inconceivable luck and honour to have been his daughter. His heart was so beautiful, I swear sometimes I find it hard to convince myself this man even existed. I am so grateful and humbled by the strength of him and my two siblings, and the amount of work we did as an unbreakable unit to make his passing gentle, even though it was the hardest, most unimaginable thing.
This year I feel the strength he gave us and the unshakable power to trust in that strength in the darkest of times. The years pass and the loss is always irreplaceable, as these things always are, but the love is, if possible, even greater. You never get over someone\’s passing. And, maybe, when a human this radiant is in your life, it takes years to even process the immensity of their heart.
Grief comes in waves, when you are ready to process each part of it. The parts that affect your everyday life, they are the hardest to become aware of. They are a part of your being. Scars adorning your skin for so long, you don’t even notice anymore.
Slowly you become more conscious of the scars and of recognising that, in remembering someone, acknowledging the effects of their loss is very powerful too. All-consuming. And in the light of this, you notice things in yourself that don’t really belong with you anymore.
If you have ever lost someone in your life, you might recognise this. There is a response mechanism that manifests itself to save you from ever feeling this loss again by always being ready for people to walk out of your life. In moments when people feel distant, it will always whisper: “You have said goodbye to the most important human in your life. This is not as difficult”.
Unsurprisingly, holding my father’s soft hand as he passed convinced me that no one is truly going to stay.
So, how can you explain this most unreasonable of default responses when you find yourself amongst people that will never leave? Precious, loving friends that you hide from when things are hard. How can you explain that your default state is to be a passing landscape in someone\’s journey, but never the destination. How can you explain that ‘it is not them, it’s you’ and that you are working on it, but it is tremendous and it takes years?
When someone this good passes, they leave no room for uncontrollable grief. They leave strength. But what also happens is that this strength becomes your shield to all other emotions. Fear, sadness, love, empathy, they all eventually are overpowered by a shield where anything that could ever hurt you or open you up to feeling any emotions is concealed and safe. The hardest thing has already happened, so nothing else should touch you now, right?
No. That is not right.
Processing the passing of someone good, someone whose every move was made from the heart, makes you feel impenetrable, until you realise you don’t honour them by living your life in the complete opposite way, by shielding your heart.
I often joke to my friends that “I am dead inside” because of how hard it is to shake me. But my siblings and I realised a while back that there is nothing dead about our hearts. We are the opposite of that. People who lose people are the opposite of that. But it all only ever happens inside because, what if, god forbid, one day we left our hearts open and unguarded and experienced something strong and irreversibly altering again? The heart of the person that’s left behind is tired and doesn’t want anything else of that magnitude touching it. Bad or even good. No contact and no real openness.
But enough now. This scar must be mended and cared for. Because you can’t honour a human whose heart was radiant with a heart that’s shielded and guarded. You cannot use the shield as the reason not to be brave. And you can never use them as an excuse not to fully participate in your own radiant life.
My father’s memory and, more importantly, his life, was too important for that.
Today I give thanks to my father for giving us the strength to hold our hearts safe when it was necessary and for being brave enough to be vulnerable around us so that one day we can be too. May I never stop learning from him and always honour his radiant heart.