Language as Healer

I have always loved language — in particular the power it holds. Language informs. Language resonates. And language heals. I have always been a voracious reader, but since losing my father to pancreatic cancer in 2011, reading has taken on a new form and a new significance.

The loss of my father was very traumatic and painful for me, and despite having lost him over 5 years ago, I continue to integrate his physical absence. As I navigate the world without his voice, I must find ways to still hear echoes of it. I hear it when I read.

When I read, I hear my father’s voice telling me to “keep an open mind,” and encouraging me to remember that I can learn from anyone, as long as I allow myself to. Since losing him, I am unsurprisingly drawn to reading about loss and grief. It is a particular club for those of us who have lost someone traumatically and prematurely. My father was 71 years old at the time of his death but if it hadn’t been for such a deadly cancer, I am convinced he would still be alive.

I believe my father’s life was cut short, that his eyes closed for good before they ought to have. I am angry at the universe for taking him. I am pained when I wish to share something with him and I remember I cannot. I feel unbalanced when he appears in my dreams, alive and well, and I awake only to remember he is gone. How do I make sense of the world and my own identity without the man who gave me life?

One way I make sense of it is through language, through reading. When I look through the eyes of someone else integrating a loss of their own, I feel less alone. I feel less angry. I feel less pained. Devastation over a death years after it has occurred is worrisome and unhealthy, but integrating loss over the course of time is natural. The truth is there are new waves of grief as time passes.

My 6-year-old son will soon star in his first grade (bilingual) play, and I find myself wishing my father were alive to witness it. And a beloved uncle is now dying, and as his eyes begin to close for good, my mind returns to what we have shared, and to when I had to let go of my father. As I let go of my uncle, I relive letting go of my father. Integrating loss is without a doubt a lifelong process.

We must all find ways to accept our departed loved one’s physical absence. I know my father left this world nearly 5.5 years ago, but I also know his essence remains. His essence is certainly within me and my son, and all of those who knew and loved him. But his essence is also within the pages of each book I read. He read to me nearly every night growing up and as an adult, I would chat with him endlessly about the books I was reading. He taught me the power of language. With each book I absorb, I hear my father’s voice. I remember his lessons. And I heal.

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