We all grieve differently. After my father died, I waited for the tears to come but they never arrived. My sister Robin cried non-stop from the moment she got to San Francisco the day before his death. She wept openly when we arrived at dawn the next morning to find he’d already left this world. Even standing next to his body, that crisp April morning, nothing happened.
Over the last four years, I’ve felt profound moments of grief watching the man who helped raise me to be strong and independent disappear before my eyes at the hands of dementia. The metamorphosis continued until our roles were completely reversed and he gave his life over to me to manage.
His death was sudden, but not unexpected. The “mild” case of COVID he tested positive for on Inauguration Day this year was anything but, having spared him the obligatory fever and cough in favor of kidney failure weeks later. After more than a week in the hospital, we brought Dad to a board and care home in Burlingame to enter hospice. Forty-five days later he died, worn out by illness. Robin and I were fortunate not only that we got to say goodbye, but that we helped my father leave this earth on his own terms.
In the midst of all of this, we packed up my father’s apartment, giving away most of his belongings. He would never have lived on his own again even if he’d survived, making his possessions useless objects that no longer had a purpose. The last time I openly wept was on the day we packed his things. I came across several boxes of his personal mementos I hadn’t seen since I was a child. Holding his pocket knife and the jade pinky ring he wore in my hands, I was reminded of the many evenings my sister and I eagerly waited for him to come home from work. He would go into his bedroom and take off his suit in favor of more comfortable clothing and remove the contents of his pockets and his jewelry and place them in a tray on his bureau. Holding those objects, I felt the full loss of the man I knew as my father, replaced by someone who did not know either the day or month of the year.
By the time I checked into Cavallo Point in Sausalito on Mother’s Day weekend for a private retreat, almost a month had passed since his death and I’d still not shed a tear. The first day I was there, I walked the grounds and worked on my novel. The second day I had a massage and then met with a meditation specialist. As I lay on the massage table, she gently guided me through a series of techniques to relax my body and breath through my heart. Inhaling and exhaling with focus, I lost track of time and was only awakened from my meditative state when I was overcome with a strong sensation of falling. I raised my arms up off my chest to reach out and catch myself. When I mentioned this to my guide later, she smiled congratulating me on having broken through the superficial to the layers beneath. As we were finishing our session, I asked her how long it took for our mind to reveal what we learned in meditation. She remarked that it varied and I would need to be on the lookout for signs.
I fell asleep early that night, perhaps in retrospect exhausted by my spiritual journey. The sun’s rays woke me the next morning and I eagerly pulled on my running shoes to get outside. As I made my way through the Lodge’s grounds towards the waterfront and a pier jutting out into the Bay in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge, I was inexplicably overcome with emotion. I managed to make my way onto the asphalt where I plopped down cross-legged to sob. Feelings I’d long held inside finally broke free and I literally howled, my body releasing anger and grief that had long weighed on me. I’m not sure how long I was there but eventually the tears subsided, replaced by a feeling of lightness and relief at being released from so much sadness. I raised my eyes to the sky and said a prayer of gratitude for my meditation lesson and made a promise to continue with it in the hopes that leading with my heart would help me find more clarity in my life.
I dedicate this newsletter to my father to celebrate his life and to say goodbye. I’m also sharing this experience because – without giving too much away – it pairs nicely with Book 3. Olivia must reconcile the complicated relationship she has with her father as a part of the story. Family traditions, honoring one’s heritage and destiny all play a role as she navigates what it means to be a daughter as well as her own person. Here’s an excerpt.
It’s not easy to be a leader in the shadow of another and yet all of us face those moments when we must separate and define ourselves. How do we process the flaws we see in our parents and manage life’s transitions? It is a coincidence that Olivia’s life and mine are so similar at this moment? If you’ve read my books you know there is no such thing – only fate and what she has in store for us. It’s my hope that all of us can learn to have the capacity to open our hearts to absorb what comes next, and have the grace and strength to endure it.