There are cornerstone moments in everyone's lives in many cultures. I didn't realize it until now, but most share similar themes: tears, family and loved ones, progressing from one stage of life to the next, detaching from a person or idea, embracing another, joy and the work of beginning of a new journey, weddings, graduations, salvation calls, etc. all share these characteristics. As I attended both of my fathers funeral last month, I realized one more thing these events have in common. Aisles. At a wedding, you walk down the aisle to form a sacred vow with your future husband or wife. At a graduation, you walk down the aisles to accept your diploma or degree, recognizing years of pursuing an education and entering into the work force. At a salvation call, you walk down the aisle to the pulpit to declare a new relationship with God and begin the work of living a new type of life. At a funeral, you walk down the aisles to begin the work of accepting the passage of someone you love from one life to the next. All of these events are life changing moments, but every single one begins with a step; Representative of confrontation, a clear path forward, progress and, in many cases, leaving someone or something behind.
The morning after my dad passed from cancer, I immediately got to work. I started planning the funeral, making sure that all of the details were taken care of so my grandmother could have very little to worry about. That was exactly what my dad would want. Working on the program, choosing the right pictures, making sure the casket and vault were the right colors, the artwork inside the casket was right, preparing the memorial video, choosing the right music. What I didn't realize was that I was creating a false barrier between grief and myself, trying to pretend it wasn't looming over me at all times.
It wasn't until the work was done and I attended the wake that I could no longer deny the presence. I was forced to sit. To be. To feel. To say to myself for the first time, the person I get most of my personality traits, habits and strikingly good looks from has now left his body. I can no longer call him, expect to see him at Christmas, my wedding, my graduation, the next big show I perform in, the opening of my non-profit. Where his spirit once resided was now a void.
As I took my first steps down the aisle, I felt a invisible force keeping me away from seeing my fathers face. At first I could only sit in the back. As time went by I was able to sit ten rows back. Then eight. Then five. Only getting close enough so that I couldn't see his face. I patiently waited as the room slowly cleared of friends, family and people that have always been like family. As it got down to just my grandparents, siblings, mother, a few cousins, and chosen family, I finally had the strength to stand, take a few more steps, and look at my dads face. Until then I underestimated the weight of grief and it caused my knees to buckle. Almost immediately, I collapsed. My relatives and friends came to my aid, sitting with me, waiting for my breathing to slow, and wiping tears until I was able to take the last steps, with my sisters, towards my dad's body.
It was at the moment I touched the casket something happened that I didn't quite expect. I understood that I was crying over something that no longer carried value. The parts of my dad that I loved were not restrained to his body. They were merely expressed through it as an extension of his spirit and his spirit is alive and well. It lives in me everyday. I let go of the idea that my dads existence was limited to his physical body. I not only took his ability to dance, his OCD habits, and his entire name, but I also inherited his capacity to love even when he did not want to. To use all of his strength to let people know that they were family and important to him regardless of blood. In his last years, even when he wasn't strong enough to talk, he used all of his strength to pull my head close to him and kiss me on the cheek. I know it's because he didn't want to leave me without knowing that he loved me deeply. Those four months I spent in the hospital with him, I never doubted it. Now that I have let go of the idea that he is trapped in his physical form, I can start a new journey by honoring his legacy in love every single day.
Time alive is limited, but time in love is endless.