It seems as if the Universe has messages for me all of the time. Last weekend, my daughter and I were driving back together from one of our activities, and as she so often does, she brought up what was on her mind. I figured she was about to say something, as she had been staring out of the passenger side window, not really focusing on anything in particular in regard to the view, but focusing internally instead.
“Mom, what happens to you when you die?”
I glanced quickly at her, and smiled. She loves to surprise you with the ‘car questions’, I thought. ‘Car questions’ had become a thing that I’d coined years ago, after noticing a pattern with Sasha and the types of questions she liked to save specifically for the car. Now, it very well may have been that she reserved this line of questioning for the times when she and I were alone for extended periods of time, where the only interruptions would be the flow of traffic or what was on the radio. This perfect scenario just happened to be in the car.
”Well, I’m not entirely sure, but I think your soul gets released from your body, and is sent to either Heaven, or maybe to another body. Really depends on what you believe, I suppose.”
She appeared thoughtful.
“Ok, but what about your body?”
”It either gets buried, or sometimes people like to be cremated.”
After describing what cremation was, which led to a shocked “What the heck” sort of response, she asked; “So, what about someone’s soul?”
”The cool thing is, that no matter what happens to your body, your soul lives on. Just because your body is dead, it doesn’t mean that you really die forever. You can have a body that doesn’t work quite right, or become very old, or sick, but your soul is that part of you that doesn’t need to rely on the body in order to live. At least, that’s how I hope it all works.”
”So, my Dad’s soul is still alive?”
I reached over and grasped her hand in mine. “I think so. I hope so.”
This conversation was so poignant, and became even more so less than 24 hours later when we received word that a close friend of our family’s had passed away around the same time that we were having our chat in the car. When I told Sasha what had happened, I reminded her of our talk, and how our loved one’s soul was not lost, even though her body was.
“She’s still around, just like your Dad is still around,” I told her in between tearful hugs, “Just think of the happy memories, and it’s like they’re right here.”
The conversation about the soul combined with the sudden loss of a friend got me thinking about why death is so hard to cope with, if in fact I hold fast to the belief that there has only been a loss of the body, but not of the essence of the person that occupied it.
Here’s what I managed to process.
When someone you love dies unexpectedly, it feels like a practical joke. Your brain hasn’t had time to process the loss, and so instead of going through the motions, there is a period of time where your feelings are in a state of limbo. Kind of numb, in disbelief, feeling as if at any moment, the person you lost will appear in the doorway or call you on the phone, laughing at the awesome prank they’ve pulled.
Tears come easily during this stage, the fat thick type, where your eyes just allow the floods to roll in but you feel stupid for crying them because surely this isn’t real.
Once the loss sinks in, then the anger comes on like a speeding train. Hard and heavy and solid in its intensity. Pinpointing what you’re angry at is difficult and varied. Angry at them for dying, angry at the illness that pulled them away, angry at God for allowing this to happen, angry that you will now have to live a life without them in it.
Grief begins to feel like a family member who has over-stayed their welcome during the holidays—always present and never giving you any time to relax and just be. Hours and hours of just feeling a discomfort that never settles.
And then, one day, you realize that it’s been hours since you thought about them. You’ll laugh for the first time at someone’s joke, and catch yourself because you allowed yourself to feel joy. The weight lifts the tiniest bit.
The old homage, “time heals all wounds” begins to make more sense. And while you may not be healed, and may not ever heal, the time will pass. Time does go on, minutes become hours, days become weeks, months become years. Before long, you’ll be casually doing some innocuous task like grocery shopping, and you’ll realize that today is the anniversary of the death. The anniversary is always hard, it just is. That date becomes synonymous with loss, and every year it will give you a sinking feeling in your gut. You won’t be healed, but your relationship with the grief will evolve.
The death of Sasha’s Dad has been a hard one to cope with. In many ways, I don’t think I’ll ever be through with the task of mentally and emotionally processing it. Admitting this is difficult for me, as I have a tendency to want to wrap things up quickly and neatly.
This December, will mark 11 years since my late husband died. I’m not angry with him anymore. In fact, time has allowed me to take a look at his death through another perspective. I realize now that he was not himself in those last few months, that the depths of his depression had altered his reality. I continue to mourn his loss, and regret not seeing the depression for what it was—an illness that ruled his life and dictated his choices.
It pierces my heart to know that our daughter is growing up without him. I wish I’d done more while he was alive to help him, but I didn’t. That is a regret that I’ll have for a lifetime. The best thing that I can do to honor his memory is to ensure that our daughter is being raised in a loving and caring environment. I am fiercely protective of her, and I know that’s what he would have wanted the most. To know that I was being the best mother I could, to our child. In this, I have not failed him. In her eyes, he still lives on. The passing of time only intensifies this fact.
Aside from the gift of a beautiful child, he left me with many gorgeous memories. The trips we took to Japan, Canada, and the beach in California. The Persian culture that he introduced me to, and which has given me a love of Iranian food, and literature.
He encouraged me to complete my education, and to travel. Every time I hear the theme song of Friends, or hear Michael Jackson’s Thriller, two of his favorite American things (ok really, it was Jennifer Aniston that was his favorite, but you get my point), I can’t help but think of him. I can’t explain it, but I somehow know that he is around at times. It’s not a creepy thing to think about, in fact I’m glad that on some level, he understands that our daughter has grown into a smart and witty and gorgeous young lady. I hope that he has found peace—I think he has.
Time has softened the blow of his death to a moderate degree. I still think of him often, it’s hard not to considering that our daughter resembles him so much. The only difference is that now there is also understanding.
In the months preceding his death, we’d argued about things that had happened in the past, the things that we were going through in our present, and had fretted about the future. At some point, he stopped arguing with me about what would become; I now recognize that this was because he knew that there would be no point in arguing about a future that wouldn’t involve him.
I can’t help but tie in his passing when other people I love pass on. Call it a form of emotional PTSD, or muscle memory, or however you’d like to classify it. When loss occurs, the tie-in of memory can’t help but rear up like a coworker’s head over a cubicle (what former coworkers and I used to call ‘prairie-dogging’). And maybe just maybe this recollection is his soul whispering to me, “Remember me too!”
If this is true, just for his benefit I’d like to say that I do remember.
While time may not heal completely, it’s nice to know that the memories remain. I hope that one day, when I’m no longer here that others will remember me too.