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From Grief

(written 1988/1989)

Sixteen years is not a long time to know someone, especially when you start at a very young age, when you are semi-conscious anyway. How many times I have wished I knew him now, at 44, when I have a semblance of my full wits about me, an awareness of other that in my child’s world didn’t exist. My father died when I was 16, 16 and a half to be exact. He died in February and it’s interesting that I don’t remember the weather at the time. Resurrecting from the shadow memories of this experience that I’ve held so tightly, I wonder if I’ll have much to say.

What I remember is a presence, a sense of beingness, my father‘s physicalness, his smile and his hands. Maybe I really don’t remember him at all, maybe it’s a fabrication of a very needy 16-year-old. Whatever, it is all that I have and I feel him when I retrieve these snatches of memory. I also have a few photographs of he and I which I take out from time to time to talk with him or retrieve those snatches from them. And one more thing. I have the ring my father chose for my mother for a marriage symbol. Strange that my mother gave it to me, and even stranger that I accepted it without asking her why. Maybe some understanding between us made it alright for us to share the special symbol together. Maybe it was a silent token of forgiveness given subconsciously by my mother for not being able to be there for me as support during my grieving. So many “maybe”s in this narrative. Why am I not sure of things? Death seemed so definite at the time, as though someone cut out a whole section of my life and said, “You have to go on without it.”

My father was more than just a section of my life. I felt that he was a quiet island of peace in my life. I was named “Aline,” which means “Father’s Joy.” So much rushes in as I write that I am not sure of what I want to say first. I truly felt that I was my father‘s joy. What a gift to receive, that I could be the recipient of so much joy from one person. As much as it was a great gift, it has also brought much pain. The source of that joy was suddenly gone, as if waking each morning

to a world without sunshine. I hear my mother‘s voice saying that I have built this man up to be more than he was in reality, yet this is my reality. For whatever reason, I have created it. And so for this sweet 16 year old, the sun set very early one morning without even a goodbye.

As I write, some part of me is saying, “You’re avoiding the details, Aline,“ as though accusing me of tap dancing around the heart of the pain. How many times have I gotten up from this writing to take a break? Whatever I need to continue to feel safe traveling deeper into the center, for I do want to retrieve what I feel I have lost in the pain. Some voice inside me says that nothing that is done from the heart is wasted. So I feel that I must trust the path of this narrative wherever it leaves me. Yea, though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for thou art with me... strange what bedfellows are our comforters!

I remember the long procession of cars to the cemetery, or maybe I just remember the remarks of others about the long procession of cars... correction, those who loved, or liked my father, who came to pay their respects... I remember being angry, angry that we didn’t have those processions of people in our lives when he was alive. Why is it that only death, or weddings, or super highlights of life bring people together to celebrate? To celebrate means to praise or to honor publicly; to commemorate. And she asks from her pain and anger, “Why do we require highlights to show our love? Aren’t the simple moments of each day enough?”

They were for me. I enjoyed every moment that I could spend with my father. Most of them were quietly spent on the water fishing, sitting by him or on his lap, watching him work in the garden or down in our basement on some woodworking project. Then there were those special times when I was very young with the Lionel trains and that big black transformer. When I moved that handle, I can still remember the shiny black box with the lever that made magic and giggles of glee ripple through me. I have the 35-mm moving pictures, as we call them, to remind me, and yet, that is not quite as precious as the feelings that still tickle me inside. I’d trade them all right this moment for my father’s physical presence.

Here I am writing a book called “Another Room” which talks about the continuity of living and dying, that death is not the end, that the person who we love still lives in other realities, beside and beyond the physical and 28 years of living after my father, and still, I would trade all that for moments of physical connection. What is the bewitchment of physical reality that ties us to it? Is our somatic delight so beguiling that we ignore the richness of connection that still is beyond the physical? Or is it just me, my need, because of my lack of bonding at birth, my mother having had such a bad labor and delivery that she felt unable to see me for a day?

I went to locate a poem I wrote about our fishing trips. I had written it while I was taking a poetry class and, rereading it now, I find I was writing to please the teacher’s style, its voice smacking of ass-kissing and not of my experience that was so soul-satisfying. It feels so good to recall the wonderful moments I share with my father, conscious now of putting him in the present, for “now”is when I am recalling. In remembering, you are alive Daddy, even though once-removed. Such punning at a time like this! To remove the physical is only once-removed. To remove twice would be not to remember at all.

Why is remembering so hard? It is not hard. It is just heavy, sad, like lifting up the cover to the coffin. Maybe I keep him still buried. Maybe I still see his dying as final. And maybe I need to resurrect his spirit, so that he is lightly with me. Not talking about him is saying he is no longer around, buried, dead. It is my forgetting, my omission. Daddy forgive me. I want to talk about him, for somewhere deep inside me I sense an aliveness. All I need do is feel my love for him and I

sense him right here in front of me. No words, a presence, a warmth, a genuine quality of other.

Is our world so physically based that we have no time for spirit in our days? I am coming to understand personally the indigenous cultures practice of regular storytelling about those who have passed on to spirit, of their honoring the unseen as well as the seen elements of life.

I was angry when he died. I turned that anger toward an “unfair God“ who could take someone I love so much from me. I turned that anger at the representatives of a religion I felt had forsaken me. I turned that anger at any unfortunate other who seemed uncomfortable with the loss; I judged them insincere. And so began my retreat from societal structures that provided no relief from my pain, retreat from others I judged as not there to help me. No one would sit by my side, while I grieved, no one would stay until the pain went away. I retreated to find meaning again, for the

world I had known no longer made sense to me.

I do not remember anyone talking very much about my father after he died, except for those passing asides about how many people showed up at the funeral, how long the procession was, what a good person he was, and how many friends he had. But where were they the week after the mourning period? I don’t remember too much laughter after that. I don’t remember too much touch after that. I don’t remember too much softness after that.

So now, 28 years later, I am beginning to look at my loss, my memories, my feelings that I never verbalized, and I am renewing my relationship with a man who has always been very important and dear to me. I asked myself if I ever let the voice of my father speak to me in my writing. I thought for a moment and realized that throughout my inner search there has been a totally unconditionally loving voice that is my father. That resonance has sustained me when I felt despairing, hopeless, riveted with fear, or just plain sad. That voice has been my comfort, my guide in darkness, and my hope. My father, you live in that voice within me. You are a living flame within me and you support my living. What an incredible aliveness is the gift of your indwelling spirit! So why am I still grieving for the dead? My spirit has been clinging to decay and not to my indwelling life force of which you are so much a part. We are not separate, and in dying

you have been born to eternal life within me and maybe to others who are touched by you. That is the magic of unconditional love. It never dies.

I have lived almost twice as long as I knew him in physical terms and yet he has never been far from me in many other ways. When I first began to meditate, I had an experience that left an indelible memory within me. The impact of that experience resonates through my cells every time I recall it. It is as physical an impression as if he were standing with me now in the flesh. As I write this, I glance over at my father’s photograph, and even that visual image does not evoke the same intensity as my recall of that moment. Moment, or moments. I wanted to remain there forever. It

was July 22, 1973. Two days later I was finally able to put to writing what had happened:

I’m not sure that I’ll be able to write, or convey the impact of the experience of two nights ago and maybe it shouldn’t be described. But I do feel a desire to set down a little of it. I haven’t been meditating regularly. A battle has been waging inside of me. I know that the path is clear, but my body, something is holding me back. I’m not sure if it’s lack of well, discipline, or just plain laziness. Whatever, there are many nights that I just can’t bring myself to sit down quietly and be with myself. Not two nights ago. No struggle. I wanted to. We sat down for meditation, (my husband Jeffrey and I). I immediately felt a numbness start up my legs, a tingling sensation. I knew my legs could not possibly be asleep. I let it come. I lay on my back. Slowly, I began to feel lighter and lighter, then I began to float, and then I was revolving with the earth. It was a fast flow. It was first difficult to adjust. I let it come. And then a wondrous feeling with a thought attached to it came to me, “Love is the Light of the Universe.“ Then, in the darkness of space, the light and warmth enveloped me and I felt that my father was sending me all his love. Tears of joy, rapture filled me to my very soul. I can’t explain how I knew. It was more than a thought. I asked to be taught how to love unselfishly. The glow just filled me with joy, the caress of love. I wanted to go higher and not to come down. I stayed there, bathed in joyous love, conversing without words. “Daddy, it was you.” I try to explain it away rationally but I can’t. (My husband was in the room meditating with me, and after I came out of this experience and cried tears of rapture for an hour, he related that he had felt a presence during the experience, something other than the two of us.)

(Jonathan, my dear husband of 36 years, passed to starlight 50 years to the day later, on July 24, 2023!)

My Soul Work: “A woman may also give birth to her own creative work, which comes out of the womb of her own experience in which she has had to plumb her own depth as a woman in labor to bring it forth. A woman who does this gives herself over to a creative process that is like a pregnancy. When this is the case, something in her wants to be given form through her. The work comes out of her and draws from her talents and experience and yet it has its own life.”


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