By: Rachel Hudson
The day was my college graduation. A day of excitement and a great sense of relief. My plans were to celebrate the victory then move onward and upward. My next step was graduate school. My life was going in a very good direction. I set a goal and achieved it. There was much to be thankful for. The end of one chapter, the beginning of another.
While this day was to be remembered as a great achievement, it turned out to also be the day I lost my dad. He didn't show to my graduation ceremony and this was something he said he was looking forward to attending. My mom and I went to his apartment around dusk and knocked several times, but no answer. I used the key that he had given me to unlock the deadbolt, but the chain latch was secured. I was only able to open the door wide enough to stick my arm through.
All I could see is darkness, the sun had just set and there were no lights on. I felt around the door and wall searching for the light switch, but just as my hand approached it I felt a strong energy field force my hand away. I let out a yell and jumped back. We immediately called 911.
Upon arrival, law enforcement approached the door and shined a flashlight through that very same darkness I was looking into. I remember they turned to my mom and said "I'm sorry, he is in there."
My dad was lying on the couch just a few feet from the door. He had passed away in his sleep approximately one week prior to us finding him. It was his heart. Never had I experienced such an abrupt jolt that shook the core of my very existence. There is nothing I ever knew or felt, that could have prepared me for this day -- a day forever seared into my heart.
Initially things were foggy, as if I were drifting in and out of the clouds. I could barely recognize those concepts and things for which I was once familiar. I lost my sense of connection with family. I no longer felt like a sister, granddaughter, cousin, niece or friend. Those relationships reminded me of my loss.
It was too painful to stay on the same path. Graduate school became irrelevant, along with all the dreams that came with that endeavor. Even earning my bachelor degree in the field of psychology seemed a bit pointless now that my dad was gone and I couldn't help him. Let alone, pursue a graduate degree and attempt to "save the world."
I began detaching from classes and textbooks; they were reminders. I felt I had errored in a major way by prioritizing my education and career above building a better relationship with my dad, and now that opportunity was gone. I was drifting without direction. My feet were no longer touching the ground.
After being whisked through the winds of denial I eventually settled and for some time things became very dark. Time slowed down. Thoughts sped up. I laughed less. I cried more. I carried a very large bag of guilt for all the times I didn't pick up the phone. For not hugging him a little tighter the last time I had the chance. For not being the daughter I wanted to be.
The more regretful I felt, the more fearful I became. I feared the truth of accepting my new reality. I feared I would never again feel a sense of normalcy. I feared ever making plans again due to life's countless uncertainties. I feared sharing how I truly felt for surely others would perceive me as having an unsound mind. I was deeply afraid of the unknown abyss that dwelled in front of me.
"No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear." - C.S. Lewis.
When I began opening my heart to the intellectual knowledge I already had about grief ...things started to change. I was exhausted from wallowing in my guilt and succumbing to my depression. I finally asked for help. I attended a variety of support groups, grief counseling sessions and began collecting self help books. As I began to connect with other people knowing a similar pain, I was in awe of their courage to openly share their experience. As the process ensued I began recognizing the reality of what was out of my control and slowly started emptying my heavy bags of burden.
This once seemingly impossible trek, now appeared to be something I was perhaps capable of enduring.
"Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know." Jeremiah 33:3 (NIV)
It was in the small moments of awareness that I realized the loss of my loved one and the loss of my direction in life, were coming from the same place. I began to see the reality of this being my father's passing, and not my own. I began to see that my dreams were dying because I was letting them, not because they were meant to.
"Grief is what you think and feel on the inside after someone you love dies. Mourning is the outward expression of those thoughts and feelings."
Dr. Alan Wolfelt /Center for Loss. The Journey through Grief.
As my relationship with God grew deeper, so did my desire to share. Initially I could barely get one word out without completely losing it. But, each time I opened up, I was able to share more. I continued to practice and eventually my voice stopped shaking. Through written word, I also conveyed my experience and desired deeply to connect with others on a spiritual level.
There was (and is) something great to be gained in the awareness that I am not alone. I began to accept my loss, as I witnessed many others do the same, and became willing to forgive myself and let go of the guilt.
The energy I felt on my hand that evening when my arm was inside my dad's door, has stayed with me. Had I found the light switch with my searching hand, I believe my story would be very different today. I feel in my heart that it was meant for me to only see that darkness through his doorway, and nothing else. It was as if the very hand of God intervened to protect me.
I may not have followed the plan of going to graduate school immediately after receiving my undergraduate degree, but I have learned a tremendous amount thus far on my journey. I now know what it means to be fully present with another human being. I have learned that just as I am a student, I am also a teacher. I have learned that my decisions impact others and I realize that giving up would have been the worst thing I could have done through this process. I have learned that there is an abundance of beauty and answers to our prayers, if only we can be aware and pay attention.
I also learned that my trust in God had to grow bigger than my fears.
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord,
"plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future.
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me,
and I will listen to you.
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with your heart."
Today I thank God for my courage to face the truth and accept things as they really are. I thank God for His guidance and my security in the path, despite apparent uncertainties. I thank Him for soundness of mind, and for connection to the Love that binds all things.
Today I will open my heart to hopeful possibilities, whether I can see them now or not.