I have been thinking for a long time about what to write regarding my own personal journeys with grief and loss, and as I pondered this thought I have to say there were two events I faced with my first great loss -the passing of my dad.
Just a brief history – a Coles Notes version, so to speak: In 1968 my father was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and had immediate, extensive surgery, leaving him very skinny and with an electrolarynx. During my dad’s next 5 years he returned to work as a pharmacist and generally had a pretty active live – traveling to Europe twice with my mom – great, precious memories! Unfortunately, in my grade 12 year my dad’s health deteriorated and he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in June. My dad died 6 days before Christmas – he was 46 and I was 17 – so very young for both of us.
During this time, post my dad’s death 2 significant events occurred
- Dad passed away in the very early morning, just past midnight if I’m correct. My brother came into our bedroom to let my sister and I know that dad was gone. The strange thing was, I already knew – my dad told me he had left our family, just prior to my brother coming in to wake us. I don’t know if my brother remembers this or not, but I distinctly said “I already know”.
- Life was quite difficult, during the months to follow. My mom was struggling with 3 teens, having to return to work as a pharmacist, and her undiagnosed depression over her loss (my mom basically looked after my dad for the past 6 months of his life). I was in my first year of university – carpooling back and forth with close friends from high school. At the time, I felt I couldn’t talk to anyone – my friends (no fault of their own) would change the subject whenever I started to talk about my dad. I believe that because my young friends thought it was too painful for me and didn’t want to see me hurting or they just felt really uncomfortable with the subject of death, so they would divert the conversation. I didn’t talk to my mom or my siblings because I didn’t want them to hurt any more than we already were – I guess I was kind of trying to ignore the whole loss, and yet being desperate to tell my story.
Anyway – the second event – two months after dad died, my dad came to visit me in the early morning hours (it was still dark out). I remember waking up and my dad was sitting on the edge of my bed. Instead of being frightened or scared, I felt a calming air surround me. Dad said – “It will be okay. Things will be better” and then he was gone. Firstly, I was relieved and then I thought “I can’t tell anyone – they will think there is something wrong with me?”
Why did these visions have such an impact?
At the time, I felt that I couldn’t tell anyone for the fear they would have thought I was crazy – suffering from depression or some other mental issue – I really had no one to turn to and kept this secret for approximately 13 years. (now a days I would have just Googled it – but we didn’t have the internet at the time, and quite honestly my culture was basically “ok, it has been 3 weeks – you should be over it” or “time to move on”. Fortunately, this belief is changing! YEAH!)
Not until I was at a conference in Vancouver where I attended a seminar on “Grief and Loss” with Denny Boyd, a writer for The Vancouver Sun. Part way through this very informative presentation, Denny talked about “Visions” (I didn’t even know that’s what they were called) – OMG, the weight he lifted from my shoulders and heart at that moment was overwhelming! In my head, and thankfully I didn’t blurt it out at the time, “I wasn’t crazy”!! It is so hard for me to eloquently explain that immediate sense of relief mixed with such joy! Even today, as I write this piece those emotions come rushing back – I have to say I’m a little teary eyed at this moment.
Over the years, in my practice, I have talked to several people about their losses and some have experienced visions or a “presence” feeling (a breeze when no trees or curtains are moving, a creature of importance appears and sensing the lost one’s presence – an eagle, butterfly, dragonfly or ?) or nothing at all. I don’t know why one person has or hasn’t, why one family member does or doesn’t, AND everyone needs to know each person’s grief and loss experience is their own journey. We are all okay!