Beginnings and endings are so similar. Each is the start of an unknown journey, yet both are equally important and are journeys we have no choice but to take.
Learning to live with the death of a person or persons I love is teaching me more about myself and about living. I am more complex than I realized, and yet I'm honest about my weaknesses. I am in the process of learning that weakness is a strength, not a flaw. It is a bittersweet gift given to those of us who have earned it. Through my weakness, I build my path, yellow brick by yellow brick, living in a world that has changed forever, and one that will continue to be filled with unknowns. Through sorrow, I have grown to understand what is truly important. I have forgiven things I may not have prior to my loss, and I have come to truly know that in the end, love is all that we take home.
Loss is all too familiar to me. Six days before my mother died, my paternal grandmother passed on. Days later after Mom died, Daddy and I felt emotionally bankrupt and dazed. We could barely face the gravity of pain in our hearts. As Daddy and I planned my mother's funeral and did all the chores that go along with that, we carried my then four-month-old son with us, faced with the beginning and end of life in the same moments.
Through our shared loss, Daddy and I began a relationship that we probably would have otherwise never known. We grew closer, becoming each others bridge to the past, as well as each other's shoulder to lean on.
Daddy, though, was never quite the same after Mom died. He tried to be happy and move forward, but he got stuck in what he missed so deeply. His emotional and physical health suffered steadily.
In early July of the year Daddy died, my husband, Paul; our son, Jeffrey, Sylvia and her husband, Larry, and I went for a much-needed vacation in Mexico. I was restless, and my thoughts were home with Daddy.
One evening, I went and sat on the balcony. While listening to the waves crash against the rocks, I bad a "talk" with my mother as I often did and still do. I asked Mom to help Daddy find more joy in life, to help him be healthier physically, and if that was not possible, to take him Home where he would be with her and out of emotional and physical pain. As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I felt guilty for the last part of my request.
I went back inside and stood by the kitchen window, feeling sad and even more guilty. Just then, Sylvia shouted, " Nancy, come here!" I ran into the other room expecting to see my son with a bump or scrape, and instead saw Sylvia pointing across the room.
She said, "The light just flickered on and off, and I just saw your mother walk by with the sweetest smile. She was wearing a light blue sweat suit outfit."
I had to sit down upon hearing that.
I had just asked Mom for help, and there she was, as always, at my side when I needed her. The amazing thing is that Sylvia described the blue sweat suit that my mother wore to a frazzle. I used to tease her, asking her if that was the only one she owned. She would just smile and say, "It's my favorite, and so comfy."
I still have that sweat suit in my dresser drawer. Shortly after we returned home, Daddy went into a rapid physical and emotional decline. Here was my father, this strong man, who protected me and raised me in an old-fashioned, strict atmosphere, teaching me integrity and responsibility and so much more, and now he was dying before my eyes.
I felt that he was leaving me, too -- the child inside of me was losing her way home. He raised me to be strong, and I feared that I would disappoint him because I was falling apart. The reality of it all paralyzed me.
I was afraid, since Daddy was my safety net. I just thought, Oh no, not again. Not now, it's too soon. I won't survive. Then I thought, How selfish and narrow of me. But I couldn't stop feeling increasing panic. Daddy died late that July.
I had promised him that he wouldn't die alone. I told him I would be there, and I just missed being with him, which also flooded me with guilt. I actually still haven't completely forgiven myself. When I arrived at the hospital and saw him lying still in his bed, I apologized for not being with him. Paul was waiting for me and was trying to help me deal with my guilt and pain, but all the love he gave me in those moments could not save me from the internal devastation that overcame me.
Losing my remaining parent was worse than I could have ever imagined in my worst nightmares. My heart did feel broken and hollow. I think I survived it initially because my husband and son gave me love and patience and allowed me my solitude for as long as I needed it (and sometimes still need). Sylvia and her husband, Larry, took my irrational and urgent phone calls at all times of the day or night and talked me through many panic attacks. I was also blessed with some precious people (you know who you are) who let me be a child and held me up so I could walk through the thick fog that surrounded me daily.
I felt as if I were seven years old, a small girl in the night calling for Daddy to watch me walk down the long dark hall, as he always did when I was a little girl. I would ask him, "Daddy can you see me? Are you watching me?" He always said, "Yes I can see you. Daddy will make sure you're safe." I prayed that he was watching me then, that he would help me make it down that long dark hallway again, because I was so very scared. I still pray that he's watching me now.
When we become motherless, fatherless, childless, or widowed, the experience takes our breath away. We cannot find anywhere to go where we can make sense of our feelings. We turn around and around, trying to find the way out of the maze of loneliness in the aftermath of loss. The moment we lose someone who is a part of our heart, we are forever changed. That which does not kill us, in my opinion, defines who we become. Knowing that there is nothing that can change what has happened sends waves of panic and anxiety through our every cell and makes us feel fragmented. Even though we know the person we have loved and now lost in the physical realm is safe and happy on the Other Side, we want him or her to be here with us. We still want that relationship.
I have found that being an adult all the time is exhausting. Sometimes I just want to lay my head down so that someone will stroke my hair and tell me that every thing will be all right. I am blessed that my husband, Paul; a dear girlfriend; and my precious mother-in-law, Sylvia, all give me unconditional love and understanding.
I have had many well-meaning people ask me, "Aren't you over this yet? Just pull yourself up and keep going:" I have never wasted time trying to push away my feelings. I don't have to pull myself up and be tough. How can you forget or get over someone who has filled your heart with unbelievable joy, someone whom you have loved and who has loved and cherished you -- someone who has changed your life? It doesn't even make sense. It's too much to expect of a human being.
If my heart aches any more, I feel that it might explode. I stop and breathe deeply and slowly I give myself permission to become familiar with the physical panic associated with my deep loss. I recognize it as a sign that I am alive, and a loving person. I close my eyes and think of you sitting across the table from me, smiling. Your smile has always given me great joy and comfort. I allow myself to be comforted by you now.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Hay House, Inc. ©2001.
A Journal of Love And Healing: Transcending Grief
by Sylvia Browne and Nancy Dufresne.
About the Author
Nancy Dufresne (left) is a registered nurse with extensive experience in trauma surgery, ICU, Iabor and delivery, and oncology hospice nursing. She has been married to Sylvia Browne's oldest son, Paul, for 17 years. (Sylvia, an internationally renowned psychic, is on the right in the photo.) Nancy and Paul have one son, Jeffrey, age seven, who is the light of their lives, especially through all of the hard times.