Orphan Wisdom - “From a young age we see around us that grief is mostly an affliction, a misery that intrudes into the life we deserve, a rupture of the natural order of things, a trauma that we need coping and management and five stages and twelve steps to get over.
Here’s the revolution: What if grief is a skill, in the same way that love is a skill, something that must be learned and cultivated and taught? What if grief is the natural order of things, a way of loving life anyway? Grief and the love of life are twins, natural human skills that can be learned first by being on the receiving end and feeling worthy of them, later by practicing them when you run short of understanding. In a time like ours, grieving is a subversive act…”
I sit here tonight, finally, blessedly alone in my house for the first time since last Monday. I’ve watched and re-watched the video clip of Dad & I singing together at his party last weekend and all I can do is grin from ear-to-ear with every viewing. What a spectacular video…what a spectacular day it was for us! I feel blessed, not bereaved.
I know that it is our society’s standard that dictates to us that losing a loved one should be cause for reacting with extreme sadness, a sense of overwhelming loss and of course, a hardy display of tears & sobbing. My father passed away less than a week ago; according to societal norm, I should be in a state of zombie-like depression or collapsed in a pile of tears across my bed…it seems like folks are just waiting for me to suddenly up and pass out. I can’t decide if it (their concern) is touching, humorous or irritating…meh, all of the above, I suppose.
Anyone waiting for me to fall apart over the death of my father is going to be in for one very long vigil though. No, I am not avoiding or denying my grief or loss…I am keenly aware of what is no longer part of my life, believe me. Dad was hands down the most influential and respected person in my life; his presence will be missed more than I would ever care to share in public quite honestly. But even behind closed doors (or ‘puter screens as the case may be…), I am not feeling overly-saddened nor am I holding back tears just to be strong. I’ve already cried plenty in the time since we received the initial diagnosis. I bawled my damn head off at the moment he passed and for a good several minutes afterwards.
But I’ve done this death-n-dying thing before. I’ve walked a parent through an extended dying process and because of it, I now understand how blessed I am (we all are) that Dad lived and died on his own terms. Living on his own terms meant doing things his own way with no need to seek anyone’s approval. He lived a big, brave, interesting, daring and joyous life filled with adventures, constant self-educating & improvement and always, always…lots of singing, daincin’! and laughin’.
He died exactly as he lived; still seeking, still learning, teaching, singing…and laughing all the way.
The morning before he passed away, just at the serious beginnings of the ‘Death Watch’ stage of the dying process, Dad was nestled on the futon in the den, surrounded by family members. We all took turns reading passages of poetry from his favorite ancient Kipling and John Masefield books. As we read, he corrected us, explained background and abbreviations to us…and of course, we all shared moments of raucous laughter as I read Kipling’s, “The Female of the Species” and again later as Dad recited Masefield’s, “The Everlasting Mercy” from memory…and while under the influence of pain meds, mind you! And we laughed together on and off for hours…
We Laughed and We Learned right up to the very end.
I am by no means trying to say that losing Dad was easy – it was not. Statements like, “This is just a big ol’ bowl of SUCK”, and, “Well, shit.”, came out of my mouth on multiple occasions this past week. It struck me that because of my middle name, he had always called me, ‘Little Orphan Annie’…and now…Well, shit. I really am an orphan and it really is a big ol’ bowl of suck.
Fortunately for me (for all of the family), the way Dad chose to accept his death; the manner in which he set his Death Table for us was extraordinary. He set his life open for all of us to appreciate and feast from throughout the last months. He sat for long recording sessions, he visited with us endlessly. He stayed very much Alive and Living throughout his time of dying. Hell, we’d just taken him fishing at the beginning of October! He stayed present, open and honest with us every step of the way. He Lived in the Here & Now right up until he closed his eyes for the last time. He did not want to die, no two ways about it. However, seeing as how he was going to die no matter what he personally wanted, he damn well made the very best of it. Yes, he made the best of his own death & dying.
And because his attitude was what it was, because he was willing to participate in making the best of his own death, it makes it much easier for me to make the best of it as well. When I crack open the mental card catalog drawer labeled, “Dad’s Death” the first thing that hits me is the sound of his laughter on the night before he died. The laughter promptly gives way to the rather bawdy song lyrics he was delighting in making up for us. I have other ‘Death Drawers’ in my head…my mother’s, my grandpa’s…those drawers are usually triple-chained, double padlocked, splashed with Warning! stickers and rarely opened without dread for what will spill out. Not Dad’s drawer. I’ve cracked that sucker open 100 times already and each time I do, I feel uplifted, blessed… ~In Gratitude~ …for having been privileged enough to walk his Death-Path alongside him. He set a pretty high standard and bar to live up to in life…and unsurprisingly, he set the same level of standard for how to truly die a dignified and joyful death.
As I said to a friend the other day, “When I grow up, I wanna die like my Dad!”
I cannot imagine a better way to go than by leaving a legacy such as his. Grief is just like everything else; it is what you make of it. I plan on following his lead by making sure each and every day is filled with memories of his lessons and his humor…And I will hold to his example of never being crushed by life and death, but by embracing both with equal doses of acceptance and joy. The price of loving him was losing him. There is no more perfect way for things to be so why on earth would I ever want to shed and spread tears when he taught me to be grateful…and to always, always spend my life either laughing or learning…