This time two years ago, I knew my father was dying.
I knew it before anyone else. I just watched my oldest brother die four months previous. I knew the look. I felt death knock, knock on the door, like it had just returned for its forgotten coat on a cold night.
Back so soon?
But what I knew then and still know now is that as life swirls chaotically around you, you can always find your center. I just practiced it acutely over the past 18 months my brother was sick. What’s another few months of mind management and feeling my feelings while my dad fights cancer?
The good news is I didn’t have to dedicate another 18 months accompanying a loved one to the land of the dead. The bad news is he died five weeks later.
I can remember how over those five weeks, I knew he was dying and that soon he would be gone, but as I watched his body break down, just like my brother before him, I knew he had to die. This was the final verdict. So I got super present in every moment I was with him, and I felt my feelings, and I said, “I love you. Thank you for being my dad. I’ll see you on the other side.”
COVID-19 made a traditional Roman Catholic funeral plus luncheon a non-option, and to be honest, I felt grateful to not have to do it all over again. The idea of receiving the same people at the same funeral home five months to the day we buried my brother felt like torture. My heart couldn’t take a repetition of the sentiment “I cannot believe we are standing like this again.” It would have broken me. I am not sure my mother or brother would have fared any better.
When my father finally took his last breath, there was peacefulness to his cancer-ravaged body. That peacefulness felt like his first gift to me from the other side. I knew his soul had left his body. Everyone was crying except for me—and the hospice nurse, Hai Tim. My mother looked at me crying and said, “It’s okay to cry, Bridget.” “I know,” I replied. I just didn’t feel like crying.
Two years later. April 2022.
My mother and remaining brother and I have confirmed a celebration of life cocktail party for my father. There will be an open bar, just like my father wanted, and a butterfly release, just like my mother wants. It will be lovely, and I know he will be there.
April 9 was his 75th birthday. Milestone.
I was just down the shore, at his place—his favorite place on Earth—celebrating Easter with family and having fun.
My mom and I had a call with a medium who channeled my brother and father.
When all of a sudden, I couldn’t stop crying and catastrophizing my life. I was searching and grasping in my daily life to explain why I felt so out of control emotionally. I had myself a good cry once in a while, but this took over.
Woo-woo alert. I thought it was my shadow, so I had a talk with her and she didn’t say much almost like she wasn’t my shadow, but she certainly looked and felt a lot like my shadow. Then I spent three days crying and feeling like my world was crumbling around me and what the f*ck was happening and then…bing!
This time, two years ago, I knew my father was dying. This sneaky, all-consuming, chest-clenching feeling is grief.
Why am I telling you this? Because I am a life coach who is super good at managing her mind and living in the present moment for the most part, and I didn’t identify it. I got sucked into a hole that I blamed on money, but really it was my body remembering and processing the feelings that often accompany someone you love dying.
I loved my dad, and I miss him, and I wish he never got sick. I talk to him in meditation and when I need to vent to someone who will listen. The grief felt unexpected because I don’t spend a lot of time feeling sad about him being gone.
Looking back, there were signs leading up to the first big wallop. I was down the shore in his place prepping the house for Easter brunch and to choose to listen to Billy Joel’s greatest hits. I listened to Billy Joel all day. He has a lot of hits. I spent a lot of my childhood listening to Billy Joel. I cried a bit during “Downeaster Alexa.” That should have been my first clue: I missed my dad.
I tell myself that next time I will catch my grief before it can consume me. I told myself that last time. Grief is sneaky and can distort your reality before you understand what you are in. I experience grief as a mixed cocktail of sadness, stuckness, anxiety, and hopelessness. It’s faith-shaking.
So I made a note in my phone on the off chance that I read when I need to. It reads like this:
You may be in grief if:
1. You suddenly feel like something really terrible has happened. Something unpleasant may have happened but use your tools. What is wrong is this exact present moment?
2. Your tools don’t work. You are spiraling. You cannot stop crying and catastrophizing. You feel stuck in a gear and the idea of using your tools feels pointless because they clearly don’t f*cking work if you have been feeling grounded and excited professionally, and now you know that you are clearly a loser who has been lying to herself about what she is capable of yadda, yadda, yadda. Alert! This is grief disguised as your shadow.
3. Rinse and repeat #2 over and over. Bridget, if you are reading this, ask yourself what was going on this time last year, or two years ago, or 25 years ago. Could you be processing grief? The body remembers. If so, allow it. Don’t fight it. Remember, nothing has gone wrong. This is grief. Give it some space. This, too, shall pass.
Also, I told my husband to be on alert for excessive Billy Joel listening.