This December it will be twenty years ago since I lost my dad to leukemia. Snowflakes fell down from heaven the day we buried him. For a second the white world looked serene and pure; harmless even.
I still remember how unreal it felt and how overwhelmed and lost I was. I couldn’t speak when I tried to recite a poem on his funeral; there were only tears and raw grief. Two days later it would have been his birthday. For months I thought I saw my dad at places where he could not be. I saw him walking, but it wasn’t him. I saw life was vulnerable.
Finding my way through grief has made me a compassionate human being. I have experienced what it means to grieve, how it feels to wake up in the morning and it seems impossible to wash away the aftertaste of the nightmare I’m in. I have learned to understand grief, but it doesn’t mean that I always know how to react in the right way, if there were such a thing as a “right way”. I can be speechless when someone tells me about the loss of a beloved person. Sometimes mourning can only be answered by a silent embrace as it is too deep to fathom and too heavy to carry.
Yet, we will be able to carry a heavy loss, something we never could have imagined before. We will go through the sorrow by taking three steps forward and two steps back. We will see through the sadness the appearance of a sudden smile. We will walk through the messy battlefield of life and death, maybe not fearlessly, but more accepting than before.
Grief will lose its sharp edges until it becomes softer and a part of us, where it finds a home to stay. I feel the pain has found a home within me as it has turned into a place of comfort, warmth and gratefulness. It’s no longer a place of panic and chaos.
It has taken me twenty years to feel peaceful about my father’s death. His face appears at moments when the world around me looks shiny and without a single worry. When I cycle through the green fields, the sun shines on my back and I’m all by myself. When I’m mesmerizing while I try to write. When I’m with my mom, sister and brother, drinking glasses of wine and having conversations about who did what, where and when, and each of us has a different story to tell.
I see his smiling face.
Twenty years passed by and still so close, regardless the country’s borders I have crossed so far. I guess my dad travels with me wherever I go.
We are stronger than we think we are. We are resilient beings, capable of so many things. In uncertain times we need to remember this as it helps us to keep our sanity. We must not be afraid to ask for support when we feel there’s nobody to share our sorrow with. We must lift the taboo on grief and death. In this human existence where living a slow life is the exception, we should take our time to mourn and we shouldn’t be ashamed for taking that time. Don’t be afraid to ask your parent or friend how they’re feeling after a major loss, even after much time has passed. Yes, death is part of life, but it shouldn’t be the end of the conversation as it usually is when someone tells us these words.
In western cultures we are assumed to get over our grief quickly. The sooner we go back to normal life, the better. And nobody asks us about our loss anymore.
Death is death. The way we are dealing with something so important as death could do with more compassion and understanding, also with regard to ourselves. We can’t heal our wounds when we are rushed and without caring for ourselves. It needs time and patience and compassion. This we should wish each other and ourselves. It’s nothing to be ashamed for. Of course, the way how we’re dealing with death is personal and also depends on our traditions and cultures, but no one will be saved from death and therefore it’s deeply universal. Similar to death, does compassion go beyond borders, cultures and traditions.
In times of mourning it’s more important than ever to be open about grief and to care for each other with compassion. It makes us, as human beings, more complete and more beautiful. In a world where countries are burning and we don’t seem to understand how to save them from destruction, we shouldn’t forget this.
Earlier published on Elephant Journal:
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Image by Laura Makabresku