Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak
whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.
Twenty years ago today, my father departed this world.
On August 2, 1994 I learned that my father had died in a car accident.
Sometimes it feels as though it all happened centuries ago. Other times, like today, it seems like only moments have passed.
On August 3, 1994, I boarded a plane for Winnipeg to attend his funeral. It was as though time had stopped. My body was doing what it needed to do, getting me from point A to B. My brain was in a spin. I knew I had been informed that Dad had died but I was still reeling from the shock. Nothing and no one around me made sense. My heart had exploded with pain and no number of band-aids, well-meaning words or deeds, could plug up the wounds fast enough for me to process any of it.
Arriving at the airport in Winnipeg I was met by family. I was in a daze as I descended the escalator to meet them. The first two faces I saw were those of my mother and my aunt. I dissolved into a shaking mess of tears before I ever reached them at the bottom.
The car ride from the airport to my parents’ home was endless. Small talk was out of the question. I asked straight out: “What happened?”. Although I already had heard the basics, I needed to hear it again. Perhaps in hearing more details I would get an answer to the unanswerable “why” or allow me to uncover a huge misunderstanding. I still hoped to hear the words: “mistaken identity”; to know that my father in fact was safe and well. In reality, those words were never uttered. Although from time to time I still hear them in my dreams.
Everything that transpired after my arrival was a cascading swirl of activity: organizing funeral arrangements, answering phone calls, accepting sympathy visits, reading messages. All of which was deeply appreciated, but infinitely exhausting.
Through all the almost business-like making of arrangements, I held it together. It was not until the day before the funeral that I absolutely lost it. The emotional tide swept in and overtook every part of me, fast and furious.
The minister presiding over the funeral service paid a visit to our home. He was genuinely kind and compassionate, but I was in no way ready to face the clergy. Or a burial. Or the finality of the death of my father.
My father never expressed the desire to be cremated so a traditional funeral and burial had been organized. A “viewing” had been arranged for immediate family. I adamantly refused to go. There was no way in hell I was going to allow the final memory of my father’s face to be from a casket.
The minister was amazing with me and I’ll never forget it. He said, “I understand your reasons for not wanting to go. All I ask is that you remember that you have not had a chance to say your good-byes. If nothing else, attending the viewing will help you accept your father’s passing and give you the opportunity to express yourself as you see fit in your farewell.” It was enough to convince me. Begrudgingly, I attended. And to this day I’m grateful that I did.
Before the viewing, I wrote my father a letter and a poem. I rolled it up scroll-style in my favourite photo of him and put it in the casket near his heart. I recited words flowing from deep inside that I knew intellectually he could not hear. And yet. I felt he did.
The funeral service was held the following day. I remember nothing about it except watching his coffin being lowered in the ground and my knees buckling at the sight. When the funeral was over, I subsequently stayed with my mother and sister for a couple of weeks before I returned to Edmonton to start school.
It was a dark and painful time. But I look back on it now with a certain degree of gratitude and some semblance of peace. If nothing else, what that devastating experience did was revealed to me a strength I never knew I had. More than that, a supportive and beautiful relationship with my sister was forged. Because we went through something so difficult and transformative together, an amazing friendship was built between us that remains to this day.
Twenty years ago today, I lost my father. And I withstood unimaginable pain.
Twenty years ago today, I lost my father. And I truly understood what “forever” meant.
Twenty years ago today, I lost my father. And I learned strength in adversity.
Twenty years ago today, I lost my father. And a loving friendship with my sister was born.
Twenty years ago today, I lost my father. And I came to understand that grief is fluid, not finite.
Twenty years ago today, I lost my father. And I still miss him.
Twenty years ago today, I lost my father.
And I remember him with love.