In the days immediately following his death, I had several experiences that made me believe he was communicating with me. This is an experience many people claim to have had, and I have always wondered if such occurrences are something we create in our minds because we need them so desperately, or if they are indeed real. Ultimately, my opinion has always been that it doesn’t really matter. If it brings us comfort to believe that they’re real, then they’re real. End of story.
I made up my mind to stay open to signs from him. The manner of his death was so unexpected, so painful, I felt that if I could just receive a sign (or better yet, signs) that he wasn’t really gone, I could make my way through this horrendous loss.
The first few signs were songs that caught my attention while in public places, two with lyrics I didn’t already know. That alone made me feel as if maybe it wasn’t all in my mind. Then another tune came along one day at work. The school where I teach plays music over the loudspeakers each morning before the bell, and this particular morning Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” was the selection. I didn’t give it much thought at the time, but the following morning I woke with the song in my head. Aside from the chorus, I didn’t know any of the words so figured I’d better look them up.
As I mentioned in my last post, Dad was an avid reader of history, philosophy, and religion and had quite the collection of books. A few days after he passed, I randomly chose a few from his shelves to read at home. Then several days later, Mom found some notes he had left me. I would have been around ten years old at the time he wrote them, and in them he recommended six books for me to read as an adult, thinking I would find them useful. He listed them in the order he felt they should be read, Bhagavad Gita being first on the list.
Bhagavad Gita was one of the five books I plucked from his shelves only days before, shelves that hold well over two hundred titles, maybe more, and it was the first book I had already started reading.
Well, if you’re me, you question whether those previous “signs” were real. After all, if that was really Dad, why would he suddenly stop speaking to me? Especially when I keep asking him where the hell he went?
It’s been nothing but damn crickets. Or have I just stopped paying attention already?
I’ve been doing a lot of self-help reading, listening to podcasts, which I guess is what some of us tend to do when we’re in crisis. At least that’s always been my MO. I did the same when my daughter was going through chemo, and for some time after she died. When things are going smoothly, why do I need to read such stuff? Life is too busy, after all. But when life gets rocky, I seem to find the time.
One idea I can’t seem to shake is that each time something tragic happens in my life – or even if it isn’t tragic but simply a rough patch - it’s a push for me to grow as a person. But recently, I saw a meme that stated, “I don’t want to go through things that don’t kill me but make me stronger anymore!!” This is exactly where my mind goes on days when my little philosophy of “growth” isn’t quite cutting it for me.
But back to my reading. A theme I’ve come across time and again – one that’s also the main gist of Bhagavad Gita – is that we humans are horrible at accepting the impermanence of the things of this world. And the minute we can truly know that what makes us… us, never really dies, we will find peace. Unfortunately, the majority of us will never really know this until we die ourselves, so what do we do in the meantime?
I miss hearing, “Hey Shel, it’s Dad,” through the telephone line. I miss his corny jokes I’ve heard a million times. I miss his laughter when he was enjoying a good comedy. I miss watching him savor a good meal and say how it was “to die for.” I miss catching him wander a few steps off his path to hand the homeless person a couple bucks.
How do we get to that place where we stop clinging to all those impermanent experiences and know - not just believe - that our loved one is still with us?
Whenever we’d have family discussions about events happening in this world that made us frustrated, angry, or just sad and hopeless, Dad would sometimes say, “You gotta be stoic about these things.”
Don’t get me wrong. Dad had a quick temper and wasn’t always the best at being stoic about matters over which he had no control, but despite being unable to follow his own advice, he said this because he knew it was the best way to endure life’s heartaches. I think it was a reminder to himself as much as it was to the rest of us.
So Dad, I’m doing my very best to be stoic about your absence. Instead of dwelling on what I’ve lost, I’m working each day to be grateful for the years we had. I’ll keep reading your books, paying special attention to your notes in the margins, in hopes of receiving some of the lessons you learned during your life on this planet, and maybe even some of the lessons you’re learning now.