CATEGORY / me

The Morning Routine

I was reflecting today on the man I used to be. Before the age of 40, I’d published two critically acclaimed and award-winning books, collected four university degrees including a doctorate, earned a Black Belt in karate and advanced status in several other martial arts, had met the likes of Pierre Trudeau, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama, had travelled the world and had great loves, losses, and adventures.

Despite all that, I still felt like a failure back then. I didn’t have the things I really wanted: a wife and children, financial stability, and some sense of the trajectory my life and career should be on. Only now, in retrospect, do I see how productive I used to be, and how I even had leftover time and energy to be an insatiable reader, writer, and student of other arcane knowledge.

Today I looked back at how I used to spend my days, how I was able to maintain what now seems to me like a breakneck rate of productivity –even though at the time I felt I was procrastinating all the time.  I did so because I’ve been studying the behaviours of the stoics –Marcus Aurelius and Epectetus and Seneca– whose world outlook and discipline I’ve come to admire of late. And weirdly I find that I was already reflexively doing what they preach. (more…)

Meditations on Grief

I have lain claim to my father’s mug.

It’s been exactly three weeks to the hour since my father died. I’m taking a moment to write down my thoughts because I think I will want to know what I felt, some years from now when I masochistically relive this sadness.

I don’t want to dwell too long on this. Rather, here are some quick observations about where I am right now in this process.

I feel unbelievably fortunate to have had my father so long in my life. Many of my friends lost their parents earlier. I got to establish myself as an independent middle aged adult before losing my father, so the trauma is one of loss, not one of fear.

I feel grateful that my father passed relatively quickly after it became clear that a debilitating disease was threatening to strip him from us one layer of dignity at a time. It was a kindness that he left when he did, though in the end it was sudden and largely unexpected.

I am a little surprised by the depth of my own spiritual beliefs. I looked upon my father’s corpse and knew deep down that that was not him. He had gone elsewhere. This is not a scientific observation, but a deeply felt understanding of my universe. I am fairly convinced now that we are not bodies. We have bodies. And we leave them behind when we go on.

I cried openly and joyously. I’m shocked now that I no longer cry. The immediate grief was intense but very brief. Now I just have a general sense of sadness. And I do feel a tad guilty for only feeling light sadness and not crippling grief. Is not a proper son who so deeply adored his father supposed to be driven to his knees in dysfunctional grief? Yet I smile and tell jokes and continue on. Though my doctor spouse does describe me as “depressed” but “normal.”

I feel additional guilt because I went home to my spouse and child and my daily life did not change much. Whereas I know my widowed mother and childless siblings closer to home are feeling the change in their lives more acutely than I.

I feel comforted by the presence of my toddler, of whom one quarter comprises my dead father’s genetics. I tell myself that though my son calls me Daddy, he represents a piece of my departed Daddy to me.

I had steeled myself for feeling cheated that my son will not remember his grandfather. But instead I’m so very thankful that they had any time together at all.

Possibly the most sobering part of the process is something that I suspect every grieving individual has gone through. It’s that moment when you come home from the hospital, having just seen your loved one’s dead body, yet you find his half-drunk cup of tea, or his half-completed crossword puzzle, or the soiled pair of socks he had tossed side just hours before his final illness took his life.

It’s a reminder that death doesn’t work like how a TV show presents it. There are messy details. There is the detritus of life that lingers after the life itself has passed. There’s the wallet with loose change, the mail that still arrives, the clothes in the hamper, the spectacles folded atop yesterday’s newspaper, the bookmarked novel half-read, and the hat that he’d hung on the knob of his favourite chair that same day he was taken to the hospital.

The ghost that haunts the house is not an intangible spirit but a redolent assortment of loved and used objects still imbued with his flavour and touch.

Later this week, I will return to my parents’ house after having left post-funeral. And in my mind it’s still my parents’ house, not my mother’s. Because I know I will walk in and immediately greet my father’s chair as if he is still sitting in it.

A friend of my sister’s left a lovely poem on my father’s memorial sight. I am reproducing it here for posterity. It’s called “Death Is Nothing At All” by Henry Scott-Holland:

 

Death is nothing at all.

It does not count.

I have only slipped away into the next room.

Nothing has happened.

 

Everything remains exactly as it was.

I am I, and you are you,

and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.

Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.

 

Call me by the old familiar name.

Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.

Put no difference into your tone.

Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

 

Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.

Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.

Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.

Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.

 

Life means all that it ever meant.

It is the same as it ever was.

There is absolute and unbroken continuity.

What is this death but a negligible accident?

 

Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?

I am but waiting for you, for an interval,

somewhere very near,

just round the corner.

 

All is well.

Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.

One brief moment and all will be as it was before.

How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!

A Psalm of Life Ended

Walter Deonandan
July 21, 1932 – July 21, 2021

 

My sister came into my room and whispered loudly, “Ray, are you awake?”

“Hmm?” I said.

“The hospital just called.” I sat up right away. “Daddy just passed away,” she said.

I looked at the clock. It read 2:48 AM. “How long ago?” I asked.

“Maybe five minutes.”

My father had been dead for five minutes. But he would be dead for the rest of my life. (more…)

2021

This website is now 28 years old –22 years as a traditional blog. Long time readers (both of you) will know that I traditionally reserve the first post of a new year for some sappy, shmaltzy reflections. So if you’re here for science or bad jokes, this is not the post for you. Tune in next time.

For the whole world, 2020 was a stressful time. It was worse for some than for others. For many, it was brazenly horrific. And for a handful, it was actually a fairly pleasant year. (We call those people “billionaires.”) (more…)


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