Two months ago, my brilliant, big-hearted minister, Reverend Kevin Tarsa invited me to perform a dance to this song, "Sanctuary," by Carrie Newcomer, with an umbrella. He told me it would be part of our Unitarian Universalist October theme of Sanctuary. I hesitated. I couldn't exactly imagine how I'd do a dance with an umbrella. Not to mention that even though I teach Nia, my dancing is for me and not a performance art anymore (the last time I did that was decades ago when I was 15). Something inside me said, "Just say yes—you'll figure it out" and Rev. Kevin assured me that this being personal would not only work, but it'd be fitting for the service he was imagining. I've learned to trust his vision and my yes came forth.
Little did we know that two days before I would share this dance, my dad would let go of his body after a 6-months journey with pancreatic cancer. This added a depth and dimension to my dance I didn't expect and couldn't plan. It became a dance of meditation and gratitude for him and even for our imperfect relationship. My dad was a dancer too (in his late 50s, he learned how to swing dance) and his Spirit was right there with me in this divinely-timed catharsis.
Through this process, I grieve as I have never done before. It's foreign and hurts both physically and emotionally as I swim to the depths of allowing what I have worked so hard to find: the ability to feel my feelings even though controlling my emotions was my survival and thus has been so much easier. Grief has no timeline. It's not neat and organized. I like neat and organizable. And so, I step into the process with trust, beginning with trusting myself.
I'm so grateful that I traveled across the country to see him the weekend before he passed. When I got home, I wrote about one of my most memorable final moments with him.
16 October 2018
When I was 10 years old, I experienced the death of someone who was like a big brother to me. Mark was 17 and had liver cancer. It was 1980 and my mom took care of him in our home. For the better part of a year, I watched my hero weaken day by day going through chemo and maybe radiation (I don't remember). It was very rough. Walking through the front door after school one day, I knew instantly that he had died. I could feel it. The energy had shifted. For months after he was gone, I could feel his spirit when he came to visit me. I loved it and felt so comforted knowing that he was still nearby.
I had a complicated relationship with my mom before she left her body in 2006, she was only 59 and had a heart attack just months before my daughter was born. One of the things my mom did so right was to give me the gift of comfort with death. I don't have fear of it for myself or being around someone who is dying. That came in handy this past weekend when I went to see my dad who is in his final days of being in a physical body. I'm so grateful to have shared his last coherent days with him as he awaits his spirit's release. It's confusing to grieve both the dad I never had and the father I did. I envy people who have a close connection with their families. I know that few have simple relationships in theirs and yet mine has had so much more pain than I wish it did.
I'm grateful that for the past 15 years or so, I have made it a practice to leave nothing unsaid to my dad. Including acknowledgment and forgiveness. And I carried that through to my last 15 minutes with him when I asked if he was at all afraid. In his morphine dream state, his response was touching, "So so." I'm grateful that I knew what to say to him in our final moments together.
It's weird to be moving to the front of the line at the edge of life's cliff with my mother having passed 12 years ago. I didn't think I'd be here so early in my life.
This may sound strange, but one thing I will remember forever is the mindfulness I brought to the very basic act of cutting his nails for their last time. For my whole life, our relationship was different than how I wished it was. In a relationship that felt anything but normal most of the time, cutting his nails was a standout moment. It felt "normal." Like what a daughter would do for her dying father. I brought laser attention to each moment holding his hand and fingers, cutting one nail at a time. Locking the event into my memory.
Simplicity. Purity. Love. Grief.
Wishing you a beautiful light beam to ride on your Journey, Dad.
Only LOVE is real. 💜✨
On Friday, October 19th, my dad's last afternoon of physical life before he transitioned to Spirit, Olivia and I called him. He'd been unresponsive for a couple days. Olivia very sweetly said, "I hope you have a good journey, Grandpa. I love you!" and he mumbled back what seemed to be, "I love you too." Just a few hours later, he breathed his final breath.
My dad always had a great sense of humor and Olivia wanted to call back to ask him to send a butterfly when he passed. We didn't get to make that call, but I choose to believe he received her request anyway. Instead of a butterfly, he sent a very engaging fly, which is just like something he'd do. "Did you say, 'Send me a fly?!'" I'm grateful for all the laughter we got to share in that moment in his honor and throughout his life.
Thank you, Dad, for giving me the gift of life. Even though our relationship was different than I wished it was, I know you showed up the way you could. And this is why I invite you to this beautiful idea of Rumi's,
"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there."
Life is long. Life is short. In the end, it's all we have—life, and each other. May love, kindness, and compassion prevail and may we each find sanctuary in ways that matter most.