On loss: Navigate the clusterfuck with an open heart

“Courage isn’t something you wait to feel before doing the thing you’re afraid of. Courage is something you build in the doing.”

It’s been several months since I last sat down to write a blog or work on my coaching practice. This fall was one of the most intense periods of my life and I didn’t have the mental or emotional bandwidth to build a business. Sometimes when life is a clusterfuck, the non-essentials have to be set aside so that we can walk through the chaos without losing our minds.

It all started with my boyfriend telling me on the heels of his 40th birthday that he didn’t like the man he was and needed to go off on his own to figure out what he wanted and who he wanted to be. At the end of September, he and his son moved out of my home and I said goodbye to a man I adored. Within a couple of weeks, I lost a partner, a family, and a dual income. The unexpected surprise was the sadness I felt in losing a child I didn’t know I had come to love. I had to sit with that one for a while.

After completing my 60 hours of life coaching in October and submitting my portfolio for certification, which could not be postponed, I took a break from writing and coaching. Although that decision halted my momentum and delayed my plans, I needed time to grieve and process the loss. Whatever capacity I had to create was absorbed by my work and by the time I got home in the evening, I had nothing left to give. I needed to clear space before I could hold space for others.

In November, just as I was adjusting to my new normal and ready to focus on my coaching business again, I got a roof leak that turned into mold. For weeks during the Christmas holiday, my home was a mess while the affected part of the ceiling was removed, treated, and reconstructed. There’s nothing like major home damage during the holidays to make a newly single woman feel alone and helpless.

Thankfully, my neighbors, friends, and family generously offered their home, assistance, words of kindness, and several glasses of wine while I vented. In the end, all was resolved, but the situation at home upended my hope for a productive and peaceful holiday break. I did not work on my website or create content. I did not reach out to clients or schedule any calls.

I thought I couldn’t bear any more bad news when my younger sister texted me on Christmas Eve to say that our dad was gravely ill and I should go see him. I hadn’t spoken to my dad in seven years. I was not in the best emotional state and I was afraid that seeing dad would reopen wounds that took me years to seal. I had no desire to see him nor revisit the past.

But by December 28th, my dad’s condition had not improved and I awoke with a certainty that ready or not, I had to see him.

The day I went to the hospital, my brother and sister were already in the waiting room. I nervously joined them and thought I might fall apart when a few minutes later, their mom came out to tell me that Dad was ready to see me.

As soon as I stepped into his room, someone kindly shut the door to give us privacy. He was visibly older, yellow from jaundice, and struggling to breathe. I sat at the foot of his bed, held his hand, and immediately began to cry.

Dad looked at me tenderly. “There’s so much pent up emotion between us, isn’t there?”

I couldn’t speak so I just nodded and squeezed his hand. We sat there in silence recognizing each other’s pain, born of pride and fear.

My dad expressed to me what I’d waited a lifetime to hear: that he loved me, that he always thought of me, even from afar, that I was a strong woman, and that he was proud of me.

In that window of unhindered vulnerability, knowing it might be our last chance to share what was in our hearts, we said everything that needed saying.

I spent hours that Sunday afternoon showing my dad photos and videos of my life and answering questions about the years since he’d last seen me. He told me stories about his greatest loves and disappointments, his work, and his life with Parkinson’s disease. He was hopeful he would recover and for a brief moment, I imagined a life reunited with him, of Sunday afternoons listening to music and talking about books.

My dad’s health rapidly declined and by Tuesday we were told he would need a liver transplant for any chance of survival. Dad declined the transplant and chose hospice instead.

I put everything on hold, this time including my work, to be with my dad. I sat with him for hours, talking, reading, thinking. I went from wanting nothing to do with him to feeling a love so strong I would have done anything to ease his suffering. I cleaned his vomit and wiped his tears. I rubbed ice on his lips and caressed his hands. I pleaded with nurses and doctors to give him whatever he wanted.

When there was nothing left to do, I sang to him.

What I missed in the last seven years of his life, I tried to make up in the last seven days.

The tragedy of not having a relationship with a parent is the missed opportunity to see oneself reflected in another human and the intimate knowledge and self-acceptance that comes from looking into the mirror. In recognizing their beauty and flaws as our own, we come to love ourselves better.

I watched my dad take his final breath on January 4, 2020 and it was one of the most terrifying and beautiful experiences of my life.

I would have missed these gifts of forgiveness, love, and self acceptance if I had waited for the courage to see him. The courage came to me afterwards, in the moment of doing the thing I was afraid to do.

It is during the most challenging of life experiences that we discover the depth of our strength and resilience. We must navigate the clusterfuck with an open heart and trust that we will find the courage within us.

All of it - the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly - is a gift.