“Death is not extinguishing the light; it is putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.”~ Rabindranath Tagore
This very day last year, was the day I said my final goodbye to my dear Papa. Papa was in hospital for 3 weeks before he passed, the final week being in the Intensive Care Unit. It was a heart wrenching time, one in which our hopes were being raised and dashed every day as we were given his daily hospital reports. One day we would be told things were just not looking good, the next day the doctors were asking us what magical powers we had for his improvement was inexplicable, the day after that back to things not looking so good. Every day walking into that ICU ward, my heart would be pumping so hard I was convinced that the security guard could hear it. What will they tell us today? Will he respond to my voice? Will he be sleeping soundly? Will he be struggling to breathe? The anticipation at times got too much to bear. Unfortunately for us, my Papa was needed somewhere else. His mission in this life was complete and on 20 August 2018 at 2.25pm he bid us farewell. We gave him the send off we think he would be proud of and slowly, painfully tried to get on with our lives.
It’s what I experienced the next 365 days that’s inspired this post. As you would expect, friends and family offered their condolences and shared in our grief. I know a lot of people felt there was not much they could do but impart some kind words, but it’s these very words that got me through that tough year.
As soon as the condolences started flooding in, what kept me going was hearing how everyone remembered him. Words like “legend”, “kind”, “smiley”, “balanced”, “centered” were in so many of the messages. I did not take even one message for granted, I soaked it all in, every single word. I remember one memory my cousin had was of Papa teaching him how to swim. I laughed…. because Papa himself didn’t know how to swim. But that was who he was, he could teach others even when he didn’t know how to do something himself.
There were a few thoughts that particularly stood out for me and that helped me navigate through all the emotions I went through. One of the first things that I clung to was something a close friend said to me: “When you lose a parent, you gain an angel”. Thinking of that has given me much comfort.
Months later I found myself feeling angry. Why were we given hope of him getting better only to have him taken away from us? I spoke to one of my dearest, wisest friends about how having hope was pointless to me now. She explained to me her views on the difference between being hopeful and being determined.
She said “I don’t know about hope. Whether having it or losing it matters. I think of hope as a rather weak cousin. Optimism is important I think. Because our vibes affect the outcome. Most important of all is determination. Keeping on until the goal is achieved. And you will then understand that it all comes down to control. We need to differentiate between that which we can control and that which we can’t. When we have no control, we can hope. But when we do have control, then we must be determined. I think in Papa’s case you were determined, yet it was not something you could control or do anything about. If you were determined in a situation where you should only have been hoping then what you are feeling is natural.” I’ve read these words over and over and slowly I can feel myself accepting that I could not have controlled the situation and what I was holding onto was determination at a time when all I could have really done was hope.
When I finally felt myself begin to grieve, and it took a really long time to get there, I was conflicted. Did grieving mean I was not being grateful for the memories? Such beautiful memories of such a beautiful Papa who made me feel like the luckiest daughter in the world. How could I feel sorry for myself? I shared this with another good friend who explained that there was no correlation between grief and a lack of gratitude. She encouraged me to feel the pain, to feel the loss, to open up to my emotions and to recognise every journey is different.
Along the way I stumbled across an article on grief. I wish I could remember where I read it so I could give credit where it’s due but I never made note of the source. The article explained how grief is like a huge circle within a jar. It is so huge the circumference is pressing up against the sides of the jar. The jar, in this instance, represents your outlook or approach to grief. In the beginning the circle is taking up all the room in the jar. Many people think in time the circle will reduce in size. It doesn’t. Instead the jar needs to increase in size, so much so that the grief starts feeling smaller. I interpreted this to mean that your outlook and approach to grief needs to encompass things like acceptance, gratitude, hope, in order to grow the jar. The grief will not get smaller, but I promise it’ll feel smaller.
With every birthday, anniversary, father’s day came a mixture of emotions. But I got through it all with the help and kindness of everyone around me. To all the beautiful people who shared their memories of Papa with me, I cherished every single word. To all the friends who went out of their way to pick me up when they could see I was down, I thank you. To my extended family in UK who have always been there for me no matter what, I’m so grateful for you. To my family in Kenya, despite the pain you’re going through, you are always there for me, like my safety net. And to my three boys here at home with me, thank you for your understanding, your support, and most of all, your cuddles.
As vulnerable as it makes me feel to share this today, I do it because I know I’m not the only one who has experienced loss. If any of the words said here can help one other person going through the same thing, then I’ll be making a start to fostering the kind of life that my Papa was known for, a life well lived.