Posted in:   Path Basics
On May 5, just over one month ago as the sun reached its peak in the skies of Eastern Canada, my father, Brian Clifford Clark, left this world. He died in peace in his hospital bed, his last breath so gentle that my brother Barry, his sole witness, almost missed it. I woke on this morning, before I knew what had happened, and sensed that all was well and my dad was going home. And he has gone home, to rest, to peace, to love, to goodness.
As a pagan who travels the path of the Goddess, death is something that I embrace as a natural, essential part of the cycle of life. I honor death in the turning of the seasons, in the great and small endings and beginnings that mark my journey through life, and as the catalyst for profound transformation.
The death of my beloved father makes these things raw and real for me. I’m awake and aching in the midst of the disorienting mysteries of death, and finding my Self and footing in a world without my dad in it, where his immense presence and loving support are no longer a phone call, plane ride or hug away.
These are some of the many ways I’m greeting death with its arrival on my doorstep.
There is relief. The passing of my dad was best for him. He had been ill and suffering for a long time, not with a specific ailment, but more from the stripping away of his independence, strength and physical capacities. He was burnt out and exhausted, hanging on only by sheer will and his desire to stay with my mother, his wife, beloved and best friend of sixty-three years. I’m glad and at peace that he has been set free.
There is gratitude. My father was a beautiful, loving, complex soul. He was grumpy, edgy, willful and a handful at times, with big energy, big will, a strong sense of himself, and a deep integrity, generosity, kindness and thoughtfulness. He loved each of us in my family for who we were, with no strings attached. He loved me, deeply, fully, openly, and I him. It was, and always will be, my great honor and blessing to be his daughter.
There is returning to roots. I traveled to my hometown to be with my mother, collect my father’s ashes, and honor his memory with my family. The setting, the stories, these beautiful, quirky people: this is where I come from, and what I’m made of. My dad’s legacy is us, his children and grandchildren, and I know myself better in their company.
There is grief. I have no words for the immensity of my loss and heartbreak. It’s like an ocean, deep and vast, that can be a gentle wave or a tsunami. Mostly, I’ve chosen the gentle wave, dipping my toe in, and then retreating. But the tsunami comes, sudden and overwhelming, and I surrender to its cleansing work. I expect that I’ll have this grief until my last breath, something that I’ll get used to rather than get over.
There is peace between us. It’s the rare person who escapes from childhood and family dynamics unscathed. Death is a time of raw honesty, where the truths of unsaid and unfinished business make their way back to the surface. These too are part of the transformative mysteries of death, guiding our journey of healing. Blessedly, my father and I did our healing work and cleaned up our unfinished business many years ago. We found a place of truth that could hold both the hardships and the beauty of our journey together, and that gifted us with pleasure and peace in each other’s company.
There is disorientation. There’s never been a moment in my life without my dad. His DNA, energetic patterns, love, approval and presence are built into my very foundation. I learned about men, parenthood, marriage, family and the things that matter most through his living example. I witnessed aging, dignity and suffering through his end years. Now he is gone, and some essential part of me and my life has been snatched away, changing my world forever. I feel this, but don’t get it yet. And I don’t need to get it. It’s enough to accept this disorientation, and the change it brings, as natural parts of life’s journey.
There is quiet. I’m tired and emotionally raw. I’m not good at small talk, and seek only the company of those that I already know well. And I’m not interested in my own internal angst and noise. I need rest. Solitude. Simplicity. Routine. Walks. Nature. Dance. Good food. Joy. Kindness.Thoughtful regard. Space to just be. Emptiness to become something new.
There is compassion. Our culture runs from the reality of death, but our hearts do not. We all live on the cusp of losing those dearest to us. When the inevitable but devastating happens, our hearts invite us to greater compassion for ourselves and others. I hold my mother in a gentle tenderness as she navigates this great loss with courage and dignity, and my siblings do the same. My heart aches as others share their stories of grief and loss. And I’m touched in turn by the tenderness and compassion offered to me by my family, friends and people in my community.
Mostly, there is love. Grief is the flip side of love. When we love fiercely, so too we mourn deeply. This is death’s greatest teaching: that we are here to love, deeply, freely, fiercely. I will miss my dad, forever, with every breath. And I will love him fiercely, forever, with every breath. So too I love my mother, my partner, my son, my siblings, my nieces and nephews, my dear friends, my Self, and my precious life, fiercely, forever, with every breath.
There is transformation. Death is changing me. My outer world may look the same, but I’m undergoing a metamorphosis. The only words that come to me are that I must become big — to span and contain these many ways I’m greeting death, all at the same time — to open my heart wide to my fierce love and deep grief, and to risk this same love and grief for everyone in my life — to show up fully in my own skin and dare the wild ride that is my life — and to honor my father by cherishing myself as he cherished me, and by living by his ethos of personal strength, integrity, kindness, and care for others.
There is remembering. I wear my dad’s watch so he is with me, close to my skin, marking the moments of my life. What is remembered lives. I will remember my dad, with every moment, every breath, every thought, and every act of kindness that comes my way. He lives with me, in me, in my family, and all around me in the beauty of this wild and wonderful world he has now left behind.
There is saying goodbye. Peace be with you dad. I love you. Forever.