25 years ago today changed the trajectory of my life in ways I could never have imagined. I have a collection of memories from those teenage years that have shaped who I am and continue to send me in a direction that surprises me from day to day. Many decisions I have made and many paths I have explored in the years that have passed though it was not until falling into the depths of each one that I was able to embrace and accept them all…and therefore embrace and accept me in the process.
The most painful memories carried the heaviest weight for the longest time. I picked each one up like a boulder in my arms and carried them on my shoulders so the shame, and guilt, and misery of it all kept me down from seeing anything past them. I chose to carry them because putting them down didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel like I deserved to let them go. I didn’t feel like I was worthy of freeing myself from the pain. Continuing to punish myself for each minor detail felt comfortable, safer, and appropriate. I felt the suffering and I did not want to let it go. Letting go would mean having to say goodbye. Letting go would mean accepting that my life, my family, had changed forever and I would never get to have them back in the same way ever again.
The details themselves don’t matter but as humans that’s where we choose to keep our focus. We want to talk about all the little things that happened and all the big things that broke our hearts. We recall conversations, and how he looked, and what I said, and what she said, what we did and didn’t do, and then this happened, and then that happened, and on and on and on…
We want to justify not just our experiences but our perspectives of our experiences. We insist on remembering things a certain way therefore blocking ourselves from seeing other perspectives, any other possibilities, even when there is no way of ever knowing every angle of every story.
As a teenager, I was wrapped up in my own world of adolescence. I felt a sadness and depression and a colorful set of many other emotions I did not and could not yet understand. I was dramatic, expressive, angry, insecure, and impulsive. I fought with my parents, I yelled, I cried hysterically, I threw things, broke windows, and slammed doors. I believed no one understood me and that I was utterly alone.
And then a matter of weeks in November of 1995 changed everyone’s focus. A sudden diagnosis explained the intense physical pain my dad had been secretly experiencing for God knows how long and he was clearly worried, afraid for what this might bring. Surgery to remove the quickly growing tumor was scheduled four days later and no one knew what to expect. About a week after surgery–the day he was initially scheduled to return home–after two cardiac arrests and one respiratory arrest he fell into a coma. About eleven days after that his heart finally stopped and he was gone.
I don’t know how accurate my memories of that experience are anymore and none of those details were what I understood or knew at the time. Here is what I do remember from my young perspective, 25 years later, in first person detail:
I remember that he and my mom came home on November 6th from some appointment that left them clearly distraught. I think my mom had called to warn me in some way but that telephone conversation is now very fuzzy. I had never seen, or was willing to see, my dad in any way that wasn’t strong and in charge as head-of-the-household. I couldn’t look him in the eyes or answer him as he sat in worry and was clearly afraid while telling me he loved me.
I remember being frozen through most of this. I don’t remember talking much although I must have some days. I mostly remember sitting head down while listening to adults talk around me, staring at the television in his hospital room pretending to care more about whatever was on rather than listen to anything my dad was trying to say to me. I didn’t want to see him like that. I didn’t want to acknowledge his pain and so I ignored him.
I remember being told he was in a coma and staying with him in the ICU. I remember Thanksgiving dinner in the ICU waiting room with countless friends and family visiting us like a revolving door bringing us food and comfort, and watching the Houston Rockets play on all the TV screens that were in our view.
I remember being angry at every person who told me to cry. I remember being insulted by adults I barely knew telling me to talk to my own father as if I didn’t know how because he could still hear me and he needs to hear my voice. I constantly fought, and resisted, and stormed out of rooms choosing anger which was way easier to feel than fear, abandonment, tremendous sadness, and ultimately loss.
I remember holding on to my guilt and shame of being a terrible and difficult daughter, absent for both my dad in his last days and my mom for years after the loss of her husband while I wallowed in self-pity and resistance of feeling my own grief. That avoidance of suffering would then lead to years of making a series of choices that ultimately and repeatedly hurt myself and countless others around me, one after another after another, continuing the cycle of self-punishment, loss, and grief now of my own making.
As I look back on these years and do my best to reconcile what I have experienced, versus what I have created, versus the child I was before, versus the young adult I was during, versus the person I have become, I recognize that none of the tiny details really matter. The boulders of my past experiences I continued to carry with me helped no one, least of all me. The difficulty of carrying them around made me bitter and resentful and I took it out on everyone around me. It was time for me to shift my perspective on who I was and what was needed for me to put each one down once and for all.
Over time and little by little, I decided to stop resisting the shame, guilt, and pain that I carried with me and worked consistently to face it all, reconcile with and accept the choices made and their consequences, embrace myself fully, and begin again. Each day I work to begin again, doing everything I can to be fully present, to be the very best version of myself now, and to live the best possible life that I can live.
Each day is an opportunity to own what we believe, to be open to divine guidance and grace, to choose what we see in ourselves, in others, and the world so that we may do our very best with what we can and what we have, no more and no less than that.
To begin again means to do the next best thing that we possibly can. It means to let go of what was in order to embrace what is and therefore lead us to what can be. It means to recognize all that empowers us, appreciate that which is within and around us, live and love fully with an open heart, with gratitude, and with acceptance and forgiveness for ourselves, for others, and for our past.