Growing up I never imagined a life without both my mother and father in it. As a young child I imagined how my life would be. I would get married, have children and enjoy family dinners and holidays with my children’s grandparents. I imagined what my parents would be like as “Grandma” and “Grandpa”. So when my father died at the age of 52 it threw a wrench in my well thought out plan. I was 21 years of age and had only been married 5 short months. How could this happen? I had envisioned the future since I was a little girl and now I was trading family get-togethers for a family gathering with a funeral coordinator.
My dad died on a chilly day in October. Halloween to be exact. I was picking my children up from football practice when I received the phone call that no 21 year old new bride would ever expect to get. The man on the other side of the phone informed me that my father was in critical condition at St. Bernadine’s hospital. As the tears streamed down my face I questioned how something like this could be happening. I was supposed to be celebrating Halloween with my family. Through sobs I pleaded with the kind man to give me more information. He politely told me that was the only information he could offer and that I needed to get to the hospital immediately. I quickly made arrangements for the boys and proceeded to the hospital with my husband. When we arrived the receptionist led us down a white and terribly sterile hallway that seem to go on for miles. When we got to the end of the hallway she proceeded to lead us into a special family waiting room. Growing up with a mother who cared for terminally ill children I knew exactly what this room represented. I refused to enter. To this day I do not know how my husband persuaded me to walk in. But there I found myself sitting on a hard chair in an extremely cold room wondering if my father was alive. The doctor and his team arrived moments later. It felt like hours. He sat down and looked at me. He was silent for what seemed like an eternity. The silence was deafening so without thinking I opened my mouth and blurted out the words, “Is he alive or not?” Taken back by my brazen attitude he replied, “No. We did everything we could, but his heart was just too weak. He suffered a massive myocardial infarction.” Considering my heartfelt commitment to “ER” I knew that was the medical term for a heart attack. In that moment I was hoping I was dreaming and I that would wake up with a vague memory of George Clooney in a white coat wandering through a television set. But it was not a dream. It was a nightmare. A nightmare, that within the amount of time it takes an individual to utter 19 words, became my new reality. I didn’t even get to say goodbye. How was I going to tell my 17 year old sister? My mother spent nearly 25 years married to this man when they decided to end their marriage. How was I going to tell the woman, who created life with this man, that she would never see him again? I was paralyzed. It was sheer supernatural forces that lifted me from my chair. When your world has crashed in all around you there is only thing to do. Go home. And that is what we did. The next month was spent going through mounds of paperwork and a lifetime of memories. The day I laid my father to rest was the day I buried my soul.
My experience over the months that followed my father’s death is personal and I have shared it with few people. Up until this moment in my life I had never navigated through turmoil without the aide of a substance. Anti-depressants were my therapy. I did not want to go down that road this time. I was not fully aware of the journey that I was about to embark upon, but I knew that I wanted to truly experience every stage of my grief. I told my husband my plan and that at some point I would come to him and beg him to take me to the doctor to get a prescription. I informed him that no matter how desperate I became he was not to let that happen.
My first panic attack happened while I was watching American Idol. I thought I was dying. I could hear the contestants trail off in the distance as I quite literally crawled up the stairs to our bedroom. I couldn’t breath. It felt like ice was coursing through my veins and the walls around me were closing in. My husband followed me upstairs and met me with a cool rag. He placed it on my forehead and gently held space for me as I found my center. Once calm, I fell asleep to have it all start over the next morning and it continued for weeks after that. I went from being a happy, carefree spirit to one who lived in constant fear of dying. I was afraid to drive. My solitude had always been a source of inspiration and renewal and those feelings were now replaced with fear and anguish. My husband became my chauffeur and whenever he left the house I went with him. This went on for months. This was all so hard on my husband and yet he never left my side. He held space for me. He believed in my power even though at this time I could not comprehend that infinite source. I became isolated and depressed. I didn’t want to live. The pain and anguish was unbearable. This was no way to live. Who was going to save me from this pit of despair that I was in?
As I surrendered to the idea that I was going to live the rest of my life in between anxiety attacks something happened. I became pregnant. We weren’t even trying. I was then struck with even more panic. I was in no way ready or willing to bring a child into the hell that I was living. As I let the news of new life sink in I realized I had two choices. I could continue to let fear control my life or I could pull up my bootstraps and trudge through the shit. I had no other option. With loins fully girded, I began my journey of healing. For my husband, for my children, for my unborn baby and for myself. The promise of new life was just the inspiration I need to find myself again. She was the motivating force, but I had to do the work. I had to be the one to save myself. No one could do that for me.
As the months past and my belly grew so did I. I woke up early one morning and was greeted by the sunrise. Along with its grandiose greeting the sun brought with it a beautiful reminder. It always returns. I closed my eyes and let the warmth envelope me in hope and faith renewed. I felt alive for the first time since my father died. I had learned something invaluable through my anguish. I learned to just be. I learned not to resist my emotions, but to invite them. I learned to see the despair with new eyes and perspective. My suffering reminded me that I was indeed alive. I had learned to let the grief was over me like rain. I still had rough days, but when those days came I knew that they would pass. My feelings saved me. They taught me how strong I am. They taught me to let others in and help. I started to face my fears one by one. In becoming reacquainted with solitude I became friends with someone who I thought I would never see again. Myself. She was always there. The soul. My soul. She was the voice I heard in those dark nights. She was the one who was gently beaconing me to look within. As American poet Robert Frost says, “The best way out is through.” And that is the only way I was able to heal. I had to walk through the turmoil, I had to crawl through the heartache. And at some point I found my bearings and I could see light. It was dim, but I could see it. So I ran. I ran like hell to it’s warmth.
It will be 7 years that my dad made his exit from this world and looking back over these years I can see how clearly Divine my experience was and that I had a host of angels guiding me through it all. Through these years I have learned what faith really is. Faith in my Higher Self. My dad is not gone. His soul is very much alive and I believe him to be my special angel who guides me and protects me. I give great thanks for this experience. It was through my father’s death that I was born. Born to live the life that I was meant to live. Which, in my opinion, far exceeds any vision that I could have ever imagined for myself. I love you Dad.