November 16, 2022
Eleven weeks ago my Dad passed away. My mom was by his side sitting in the oversized hospital chair as he took his last breath, peacefully, in his sleep. We had just been in his room an hour earlier, my brother and I, to say goodbye. To kiss him one last time. To tell him we love him. It was surreal. The nurse said these things can take time, as he was actually breathing quite well on his own without any assistance from the apparatus of machinery behind him. Perhaps it would be hours until God called him, there was no way for us to know. As the evening stretched on, I knew I had to pick up my six-year-old from our dear friends’ home and I was in no shape to drive. My brother offered to take me. We had just spent several hours at my father’s bedside both that day as well as throughout the two weeks since he was first admitted to the hospital.
Off we went into the night to pick up my littlest. When we arrived at her door, our sweet family friend was hovering over the stove making chocolate sauce for hot fudge sundaes. My baby was teetering on her toes, fascinated that chocolate sauce could be made in a saucepan and not simply out of a squeeze bottle purchased from the endcap at Ralphs.
As the sauce finished up, the pints of ice cream came out and the four of us sat down at a table I had sat at many times as a young high schooler when this kind and generous woman became the second mom I had so desperately needed. Navigating life with kindness and grace so effortlessly, I dreamed someday I would be able to walk through the world just like her. Around 9:30 pm the text from my Mom dinged that would forever change my life, Pop, my Dad, was no longer with us. Looking back, I do believe my Dad wanted to be alone with my mom when he took his final breath and he was waiting for us, my brother and I, to leave so that they could have one final evening together, just the two of them.
As I glanced at the text, my brother, seeing the same message, stood from the table and called my Mom. At that same moment, my littlest chatted on, (clearly the delicious combination of ice cream and chocolate was starting to work its magic) her eyes grew wide as the story continued. Every detail of her fun evening flew out of her mouth in between bites. She was truly the embodiment of pure joy. Even though I could feel my heart start to break, I wasn’t ready to give in yet. I took one last bite of my ice cream, wanting to stay in the moment just a while longer, and decided that if love had a taste it must be chocolate.
The rest of the night felt like a blur. Packing up my sleepy child, and driving back to the hospital. The narrow roads of downtown Santa Barbara, my hometown, suddenly looked foreign. Slightly familiar, but a distant memory all at the same time. A clear distinction was coming into focus of how before and after were going to start to feel.
My brother was my hero that night as he went back inside the hospital to speak with the doctor, help gather my Dad’s things, and meet my mother. I couldn’t go. My body felt heavy, weighted down and frozen. I desperately wanted to remember my Dad sleeping in his bed, breathing on his own, and his hand still warm in mine. I wanted my last moments to be telling him how much I loved him and how I would forever keep our stories and memories alive. How I would tell his grandkids, my girls, about the adventures we had and the extraordinary life he lived. Immigrating to America from India as a young man and building a life, alongside his teammate, my mom, with his two hands. His life was the epitome of the American dream.
And yet he never missed an opportunity to have fun. Especially when it came to asking my kids if they wanted dessert (there was only ever one answer!) As a resounding yes ensued and cheers erupted, my Dad would order not one but several treats which led to great joy and grins all around. Perhaps the biggest smile was the one that would beam from my Dad’s face as his grandbabies took their first bites, exclaiming how delicious the sugary confections tasted. I will never forget the light in his eyes as he saw their joy, heard their laughter, and embraced their bear hugs.
In the last eleven weeks, I have started a brand-new job alongside all the other aspects of life that having three school-aged children and a husband brings. From sports to homework to also navigating a new middle school for our oldest. Teaching music in a classroom to about a hundred children over the course of a week, I get the great privilege of teaching them my love. The experience continues to bring so many smiles and maybe a few gray hairs! Yet through it all, the most amazing part is how time keeps going. The sun continues to streak across the sky and night finds its way back every evening. How sports practices come and go and laundry is a constant. But it doesn’t make the weight of grief any lighter. The whispers of sadness still have a way of creeping in. Sometimes as a tidal wave and other times as an unsuspecting gentle breeze. Sometimes it feels crippling, and debilitating, like trying to breathe underwater. Where you can’t help but wonder if it will ever get better. Or easier. Or lighter.
I recently heard a wonderful quote that said something to the effect of,
“grief doesn’t get lighter, you just get used to carrying the weight”
It struck me because I don’t necessarily want to let go of the grief. It almost feels like if I let it go, somehow I miss him less. Or love him less. And that feels wrong. But getting used to the weight is the realization that all the feelings, my love, sadness, heartbreak, and heartache can be carried but instead of being so overwhelmed by the burden, my heart is able to bear more. To carry more. To love him and be sad at the same time. To feel broken and damaged while also figuring out how to put one foot in front of the other. To not live so black and white, but rather embrace the grayness. To let my tears flow right alongside my laughter. To hug my kids and think about the hugs from my Dad. I want to remember and honor him but also give myself space and permission to not read every card that has been so lovingly sent because it still feels too painful.
I have no idea how to do this, other than to keep walking through each day with the most amount of grace that I can muster. A dear friend told me that losing a parent is immediate membership to a club no one wants to be a part of, yet the depth of understanding is immeasurable. My eyes have certainly been opened wider to the reality that our time here is uncertain and our lives are fragile. Through this experience, one of the blessings that my Dad has given me is the perspective of how do I want to live my life? Knowing that time is fleeting, what kind of person, wife, mother, daughter, sister, teacher do I want to be? It’s a big question with a big answer but I am reminded that ultimately Jesus gave the best answer and that was to love one another.
As I learn to carry the weight, I have also been reminded of how beautiful it is to find the littlest things to remember my Dad. He loved a beautiful sunrise and a walk at the beach at sunset. Mexican food, especially fajitas, alongside a cold margarita rimmed with salt. Pistachio ice cream and a great, classic movie. The view from his porch overlooking the city and the laughter of his grandkids. Even in the most ordinary moments, there is a sweetness to be found.
The day after my Dad left this earth, the most stunning and gorgeous flower arrangements arrived at my Mom’s doorstep. Each day more flowers arrived, filling the house with beauty when our hearts were aching. Diverting our eyes and attention, even if for just a brief moment.
My father passed away on a Monday and for the last eleven Monday’s I have stopped on my way home after dropping off the kids at school and bought beautiful flowers to fill my own home. The fall oranges, crimsons, and lemony yellows have descended on my dining room table and windowsill. Happy mums are lining my porch and a stately orchid from a dear neighbor is keeping watch over our living room. Even when my heart is hurting, seeing God’s stunning creations gives me a tiny bit of comfort. Knowing Monday will inevitably roll around again, has given me a day when I make an appointment with the sadness and meet my heart where it is at. To give in to the helplessness of knowing there is so much I cannot fix. To the sorrow of all the things, he is going to miss, that we are going to miss together. What I wouldn’t give to hear his voice one more time. Or share a walk. Or a sunset. Or a smile. How everything that was ordinary is suddenly extraordinary and labeled as the last time.
As I am learning to walk with the weight of this grief, I am reminded almost daily that this journey is anything but linear. Sometimes the waves crash so furiously and unexpectedly, my Hail Mary prayer is that God will shoulder this burden because there is no way I can. Other times it’s a whisper that brings hot, prickly tears to my eyes. And other times a smile will begin to curl on my lips at a sweet and unexpected memory. With so much unknown, it can feel daunting to embrace tomorrow and all that it has in store. But I do know that no matter what the week may bring, what feelings may arise, or what may happen, on Monday’s I will buy flowers.