I’m Still Alive

This month marks ten years since my father died.  I knew I didn’t want to let the month pass without writing something about that, something that might help or encourage someone else, because this is real life, and My Aloha Journey is all about speaking to someone, anyone, even one.

You see, when my father died it was sudden, it was unexpected.  He was young: 44 years old.

And the circumstances between us were not great, in fact they were pretty awful. I had been harboring a lot of anger and unforgiveness toward him in the year or so leading up to his death and I wasn’t even speaking to him.  I was ignoring his phone calls, and every attempt he made to talk to me.  Subconsciously, perhaps even a little consciously if I am honest, I would think “I can always talk to him and forgive him later, but not right now”.

Then, on June 5th2008, as I was hosting a tent at a marketing event in downtown my mum called me.  She told me that my father had been found dead that morning.

My memory of that moment is something like you would see in a movie. Children playing all around, loud music, food and drink type event, people having a great time, and zoom in on main character in the middle of it all.  Dead silence all of the sudden, yet the normalness of commotion and humanity continues in the background, during this tragic, life-changing moment for her. I remember leaving, like in slow motion, heading to my car and fleeing the scene.

The following days and weeks were rough.  Like super rough.  Looking back now, to put it tame, I would say that I went a little crazy.  I went through periods where I would stay in bed not eating, to days where I couldn’t sit still for even a minute of rest.  I remember one day lying in bed after an evening unable to sleep.  I had this sudden thought that I would drive to some undecided place and go be all alone in the woods for a while.  I drove for hours until I came across a campground and purchased a site for three nights.  That first night lying in my tent and still unable to sleep, I decided that I had to get the hell out of there.  I packed up, got in my car, and started driving the 3 hours back to my apartment. I remember coming within feet of hitting a moose on the pitch black highway.  I was messed up: I literally could not handle being with myself anymore to the point that I put myself in dangerous situations.

Here is an excerpt from my journal.  I wrote it four days after my father passed.

“I’ve thought of a good analogy, a perfect picture of how I feel…

Imagine a rose, the most beautiful, amazing, perfectly formed rose.  It’s the most wonderful color you can imagine, you can tell just by looking at it that it has the softest petals you could ever touch. Its perfection calls to you, cries to you to touch it, be with it.  Its whole glorious, dreaminess was created for your love, your affections, and you alone. 

Now imagine this rose is surrounded by thorns.  Sharp, pain-inflicting, thorns.  Hundreds of them.  And you must make you way through those thorns.  The only path to this captivating love that you so crave is to pass through those thorns that will rip your skin and tear at your body.  Make you bleed.  You want to get the rose, but you are afraid of the pain.  So you wait.  For “courage”, for “the right moment”, or for “a sign”.  A few times you even are brave enough to slip pass through a couple, but never enough to grab the rose.

And one day, after years of dreaming of the very beauty that is before you, you see that unexpectedly, unexplainably, your precious, untouched love has withered and died.  You will never again have this chance.  Your dream is dead.  Your desperation unanswered.  

And somehow you must believe that it was meant to be this way.”

You see, this somewhat poetic attempt at a young woman’s explanation of how she felt about this tragedy tells a lot.  It expresses a girls natural need for a father’s love.  It speaks of years of pain that happens when this love is denied. And it shows how much blame she put on herself around the circumstances leading up to her unattainable dreams disappearance, and her regret in not taking her chances.

After my Dad died, all the anger, all the unforgiveness, all the pain I had (specifically the last year of it) no longer had a target.  So my aim became myself.

I couldn’t forgive myself for how I hurt him in that last year and a half of ignoring his calls, and denying him my love when he was asking for it (and ultimately what I had wanted was a healthy and loving relationship with him too).  I became angry at myself for being such a horrible daughter in the end and treating him that way (yet at the time I didn’t know any other way to handle the situation).

After he died, I couldn’t live with myself.  So I made unhealthy decisions, I accepted a life of living with regret, I allowed my mind to be consumed by death and darkness and the belief that I didn’t deserve any better.  Looking back on the year and a half after my father’s passing, I would say that I was like a dead woman walking in some ways.

Thanksgiving of 2011, three years after my Dad died, I finally felt release. I was with that side of the family for the holiday and I finally opened up a little about these feelings to one of my Aunts.  And her simple, truthful, emotional, real response was perfect for me.

“Your father would not want you to live that way.  He already forgave you.  He loved you so much he would not want you to live with that self-hate”.

Her assurance from my father that I should love myself, and forgive myself was a huge healing moment for me.  I realized that although he was dead, and I would never receive the only thing I had ever truly wanted my whole life – a healthy and consistent relationship with my Daddy – I was not dead.  My life was more than that dream.  And the death of that dream SUCKED, but it didn’t have to kill me too.

I love the song by one of my all-time favourite bands – Pearl jam: Alive.

It’s a song about the song writer’s own father’s supposed death.  I am not going to write all the lyrics or their supposed meanings here but I will quote the chorus, “I’m still alive”.  I love when this song comes on, I scream it out!

“I’m still alive”.

Perhaps this story is just a story to you.  Or perhaps it’s an inspiration to get good.

Death can be a horrible, devastating occurrence, and something that most people don’t even like to talk about.  It is not a pleasant conversation.  And everybody experiences the loss of a family member in a unique way.  I believe that no one can ever truly “know what someone is going through”, just because they lost someone also.  But in MY experience, one thing is true.  The death of a loved one is hard to get through. It is hard to get to the “other side”, or even begin to define what the other side is! I don’t think I’ve arrived yet. But what has helped me is to remember that despite any issues between us, my father always had love for me. Despite his lack of ability to maintain a healthy relationship, he protected me in his own way and helped direct my steps.  Despite my initial anger toward him, and then hatred of myself, he assured me that he forgave me and I should forgive myself.  Despite his very sudden, very painful, very agonizing death, he reminded me that I’M STILL ALIVE, and to live like that as long as I am.

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