Whenever I find myself on a deeply introspective healing journey, memories of my father always surface. I lost my dad when I was just a teenager. I didn’t grieve to the extent I needed to grieve. I didn’t acknowledge the enormous impact losing him had on my development, on my entire life from age 16 forward.
Dad was eccentric, loving, fantastically creative, a master at gardening and landscaping, strong, Mr Fix It, an extremely gifted teacher of all the sciences, brilliant, emotional, sensitive, affectionate, and stubborn. I inherited SO many traits from him. He was a writer who published articles about science, contributed to text books, and wrote a book about how education was destroying the joy of learning. He was light years ahead of his time. Maybe even more than light years ahead of his time. Dad won an award for his decision to implement oral exams to his students. He built an amazing gazebo right in our back yard (we had a very large back yard), and his students came in small groups, sat in the gazebo, and were tested orally on their knowledge of the subjects he taught. Can you imagine? There is NO hiding, NO cheating, NO faking it, you have to show what you know by speaking it. I wonder how many teachers do this, and why not? If I had been tested orally, I would have focused so much more on the subject. I would have felt it a lot more important to pay attention than to doodle. Dad was quite the leader of his time. His students voted him Teacher of The Year – I remember how proud he was of that honor. He was one of a kind.
Dad used to tell me, even when I was quite young, that he just couldn’t wait for me to fall in love, get married, and have children. Kind of odd, in a sense, that he was in a hurry to become a grandpa. He adored babies and children. Mom said he couldn’t stop holding the three of us when we were babies, that he absolutely adored each of us during infancy (and beyond). Dad had a gentle way and was playful. He also had a raging temper. I inherited that too, passion and intensity of feeling. Thank you Dad, I appreciate everything I got from you, especially the love of language and the written word.
Dad built a whole corral and barn so that I could have horses as a young girl. I was beyond obsessed with horses. I drew them, talked about them, begged to be taken around the corner to the Pony Rides place pretty much every day so I could ride the little ponies in the little circle over and over and over again. Dad surprised me with a pony on my 9th birthday after assuring me there was no way, not a chance in the Universe, that I could ever have a horse. It was the biggest and best surprise ever. Dad also loved my writing, he was without a doubt my number one fan. He always encouraged me to write, even from age 4. I had started writing a series of (very short and simple!) children’ stories. He was so enamored with them, he tried to get them published. There were many sweet replies from publishers about how precious my stories were, but no takers. Bless his heart. Thank you, Dad!
The devestation of losing a parent during formative years is one that only those who have experienced it can possibly know. I remember living in a state of such intense guilt about not being there at the end of Dad’s life, remembering all the mean things I had ever said to him, wallowing in anger that he left me so early. I was so mad at him. I used my anger to hide my sadness. How dare he leave me before I got to introduce him to my awesome boys that were birthed after he was gone? I remember mourning (deeply!) the fact that he would never get to meet my kids, and how outrageously unfair that was, as he had waited my whole life to meet my kids. How dare he not be there for me as I navigated through adulthood? How dare he get sick and die? I thought I needed to forgive him, but it was so hard, I just couldn’t. I tried not to spend much time thinking about how angry I was at him. It wasn’t until after age fifty, while attending a 12 week class entitled Keys to the Kingdom involving an in depth journey into spiritual growth, that the light bulb finally went off. We delved into intense healing processes, focused on bringing up sources of pain we had experienced. One of the modules of the class targeted forgiveness. I was relieved, believing that maybe, after all these years, I could finally forgive my father for leaving me. I credit my husband at the time who, amazing Being that he is, said “Maybe it isn’t your father you need to forgive. Maybe it is YOU.” The floodgates opened! I cried buckets of tears as I realized he was right. Oh My God, he was absolutely right. I needed to forgive myself. I had to forgive myself for not being there, for saying and doing mean things to Dad, for criticizing him about his table manners, his choice of food, his eccentric ways. Dad had early onset Alzheimers before anyone really knew what that was, so his brilliant mind disappeared slowly over time and we didn’t know what was happening. We thought he had just become really stupid and ridiculously forgetful. I had to forgive myself for the time I felt so embarrassed by him. I will never forget the day, at age 14 (almost 15), when he was filthy from all the garden soil he was working in, perspiring like a madman because it was wickedly hot and humid that day, dressed in raggedly old clothes as he worked in the garden, and I introduced him to a boy I was madly infatuated with who had given me a ride home. All I could think was how Dad looked like a sloppy, dirty, disgusting person. There was no acknowledgement or appreciation given of how sweet and welcoming Dad was to my crush upon introductions. That boy ended up becoming my boyfriend, my first great love. My boyfriend ended up dearly loving both my parents and spent the majority of his time at our home. I had to forgive myself for all the things I didn’t say to Dad, all the times I didn’t tell him how much I adored him, loved him, and was so very, very proud of him. I needed to forgive myself for not sharing with Dad how blessed I had always felt that he was my father, that I knew I was the luckiest girl in the world to have him for a dad. I needed to let all that guilt go. I needed to realize that Dad would never, ever, in a trillion years want me to hold on to those toxic emotions, to suffer needlessly. I had to do the hard work of forgiving myself. And I did. I felt like I had let go of a hundred pounds from each of my shoulders. I could breathe again.
Forgiveness is one of the most powerful emotions in the Universe. My Hospice “One Year to Live” class devotes an entire section on forgiveness. It is incredibly healing. We focus on forgiving others as well as asking for forgiveness, and we question whether or not we may need to forgive ourselves. We truly start living better when we clear out those old, stagnant grudges, judgments, resentments. Holding on and not forgiving creates separation, distancing, pain. The women’s organization I volunteer with also does a lot of work on forgiveness, because there isn’t much in the world more freeing, more amazing, more joyful, than forgiveness. I can proudly say that there is no one in my world today that I need to forgive, because I have adapted the ability, the desire, to forgive everyone, and everything, easily, quickly and cleanly. Sometimes it does take time, and processing, along with a lot of desire and effort, but I get there. The world could sure use a whole lot more grace. If each of us could learn to forgive more readily, learn what it really means to forgive ourselves and others, we could create a whole lot of miracles.