|Senegal, circa 1985|
I don't quite know how to begin this post, so I'll just state the facts: twelve years ago, my father passed away.
It happened suddenly and was a total shock for everyone (him included I'm sure).
The first few days after his passing are a blur. A blur figuratively because everything seemed so unreal. A blur literally because my eyes were so full of tears I couldn't see a thing.
Afterwards I loosely followed Kübler-Ross's stages of grief:
I might have skipped the anger stage for a while. My explanation to that is that I've never been an angry kind of person. Anger did catch up with me, but much later. The first time I really got angry was when I realized that my dad would not be there to walk me down the aisle. The second (and third) time was when I had my children and realized they would never get to meet him, and he them.
In the meantime, I had done my best to cope. This might not be something people want to hear (or believe) in the beginning, but time does make things easier. Life goes on, and eventually you realize that you haven't thought about the deceased person for a full hour, then a full day, then - sometimes - a full week.
It's a very gradual process, and the grief does not only imply dealing with the person's death; it also implies dealing with disillusion. I was only 24 when dad passed away, and my life had been relatively easy up to then. For dad, a healthy guy, to suddenly collapse and never get back up was a slap in the face of my optimism and ingenuousness. I knew bad stuff happens, but I still felt it only happened to others. It took me a while to trust life again.
In the face of all that emotional turmoil, three things were a savior.
1) Good friends
We were lucky enough to be surrounded by good friends, who offered a comforting presence. The first few days, some of them cooked for us and delivered the food at my mom's house. Had it not been for that, I don't think I would have eaten a thing. A friend also brought us the book "A Grief Observed", which inspired the next savior, namely:
How do you get rid of the overwhelming emotion grief brings about? For me, writing was the outlet. I wrote "to my dad" every single day for several weeks (if not several months). One of these first "letters" served as a catharsis for someone else who had been unable to cry, but who did after reading said letter. That letter made its way into the coffin, rolled and tied with a discrete ribbon.
I realized soon enough that as hard as it was to listen to sad music, it did help relieve the pain. Oh, how I cried on this in the first week:
A few weeks later, as much as I tried to hold on to it, dad's image and voice were already losing their clarity in my mind. On the other hand, I regularly felt his presence right next to me. Then I heard this song on the radio, and it got me going again:
Some lyrics, translated:
I can still see you when you're not there
You words are harder and harder to hear
Now that wings are growing on your back
You can fly
You can go
You can die
Still a little bit later, I heard this other song on the radio, and it literally talked to me (it felt like it was dad whispering in my ear!) This time, it did not make me cry; it was somewhat comforting instead.