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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Of fathers, music, and healing

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:

2) Writing

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.

3) Music

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.

Some lyrics, translated:
If you think that I'm afraid
That's wrong
I sent my heart on a leave
A bit of rest

If you think that I was wrong
Pretend that I've just conquered the sea
I've hoisted the large sail
And I'm gliding on the wind
Pretend that I've just took off the ground
I've found my star
I followed it for a moment
With the wind

And if you think this is the end
It's just a break, a bit of respite
After all the dangers
And if you think that I forgot you
Open your heart to the winds of the night
Close your eyes

After 12 years (almost 13 now), even if there are occasional setbacks, acceptance has been reached, and what remains are the good memories. 

Memories of camping, hiking, traveling, playing tennis, skiing, swimming, dancing (dad showed me cha-cha-cha and rumba in the kitchen!), but most of all, memories of talking, talking and talking (and of course laughing). Some of the most interesting conversations I've had in my life were with dad.

Dad showed me how to start a fire, how to do self-defense (he did karate and judo), how to meditate, how to do a proper Sun Salutation. He taught me more things than I can list.

Dad showed me deadpan humour. Once, receiving a call from some company that wanted to sell him something, and being asked if he owned a house (which he did), he replied "Unfortunately, no. But I really want to. I'm saving $5 a week towards that."

To another similar call, when asked "How are you today, sir?", he said "Oh, not so good actually. I just lost my job. Then I got in a fight with my wife and she left, slamming the door. Then the dog bit me. Plus, I'm suspecting my daughter might be on hard drugs - that is, if she's not pregnant (Overhearing that made me jump out of my chair as I was a super  well-behaved teenager!!!) And I've been having those weird symptoms... maybe if I list them to you you'll be able to tell me what it could be?"

Yes, dad really abhorred "colportage calls".

Dad was not afraid of self-derision, either. He was blessed with both seasonal allergies and a bigger than average nose. Blowing his nose forcefully into a Man Size tissue, he once announced to his class (of 18-20 year old math students): "Big noses are beautiful, but they need a lot of maintenance!"

Later on, as I was in college myself, another guy who was in my dad's class got a crush on me at some point. Afraid of nothing, this young man would hand my dad love letters intended for me, so that dad could be the messenger. Dad loved it!

More importantly, dad made me feel like I was a pure gem, the most wonderful girl in the world. (All dads should do the same with their daughters!)

Tonight, one of our favorite movies (Top Gun), that we watched together a couple of times, played on TV. I watched it for both of us.

If you still have your dad, cherish him!

Dads: the next generation


  1. Very touching, J. Beautifully written. Your dad would be so proud of you !

    1. Thank you, B! We all do our best in the face of adversity! :-)

  2. Wow, what a beautiful post and I imagine it was a tough one to write.

    Lost my dad when I was in my early twenties, still miss him! Father's day always feels a bit weird.

    1. It's never easy, of course. But embracing how we feel is one of the best ways to "fight back", I have found.

      Writing this was tough, but spending Fathers' Day without him was tougher.

      I try to focus on his legacy. :-)

      Sorry to hear about your dad, Crabby...

  3. Thank you for sharing and I am so sorry for your loss. You are right - we all do go through those grief stages and the timeframe for each of us varies.

    Friends, supportive family, and my faith all helped me when we lost our 6th son when I was 17 weeks pregnant.

    1. I can only imagine how hard that must have been, Diane. I am so sorry for your loss.

      Never face those things alone, is what I would advise.

  4. Very special, Julie!

    Not that long ago several of us, at very different ages, had a serious conversation about the loss of a parent. One young man, perhaps 25, lost his dad at 10. He talked about how it made him a much stronger man.

    Something lost and something gained in living every day...

    1. When my cousin worried about my brother and I, his mom (my aunt and my father's sister) said to him: "They'll be okay. They're adults." Losing a parent when you're still a child must be something else; I wish nobody had to face that.

  5. This is a beautiful post. My father also passed away suddenly 7 years ago when I was in my mid-20s and it's still hard. Father's Day lets me focus on my husband now, but I miss my Dad every day. I know you understand!

    1. When I miss him I "talk" to him. It helps.

      Sorry to hear about your loss! Take care.

  6. What a completely beautiful and emotionally written post. I understand with when writting something so emotional it is hard on where to begin but you spoke from the heart which was heard. I am so happy you are now able to remember the happy moments, as I am too. Music is an incredible release isn't it?

    1. Thank you, Linda!

      Right from the beginning (12 years ago) I sensed that releasing the emotion would be the smartest thing to do: by writing and talking about it, by listening to music, by crying of course.

  7. You made me cry with this one, J.

    The music is beautiful too.....

    1. My intent was not to make anyone cry, but sometimes it feels better after...

      Blame the music. :-)

    2. Very nice Julie. I did cry too. I am very fortunate to be able to share these emotions !

      Piche Lamusette

  8. I'm so sorry for everyone who cried because of this post! Hopefully it was good tears!!!

  9. Very touching post Julie - your dad sounded like an amazing man.
    I really love the way he handled the telemarketers...that must have been awkward - lol.

    1. He was a special man indeed. :-)

      The telemarketer stories are nothing. I know someone else who had this conversation with Jehovah Witnesses when they knocked on his door:

      - So tell me, how many spots are there in Heaven for the worshipers?
      - 144,000
      - And how many Jehovah Witnesses are there right now?
      - 7 million in the world
      - Well then, why would I join if Heaven is already overbooked?


  10. I cried too. Kleenex, please.

    Very, very well written. It touches your heart and much more.

  11. I also thought of another memory from those days:

    J'aurais voulu danser
    J'aurais voulu tourner
    Jusqu'à la fin des jours
    Toute étourdie de joie
    Toute imprégnée de toi
    Au rythme de l'amour
    Toute la nuit, toute la vie peut-être
    Juste le temps de se connaître

    Si j'avais su
    J'aurais compris comme un aveu
    Tout ce que me disaient
    Tes yeux

    Mais depuis lors
    Je danse encore en rêve
    Avec ton nom au bord des lèvres
    J'ai le regret de toi
    Ton souvenir m'entoure
    Car c'était toi, oui toi

    1. Awww... :-)

      I was the only one who hadn't cried yet though, don't get me started!!!