I had just descended a volcano in Guatemala when I found out my dad died.
Hours from the nearest airport, in the midst of spotty WiFi and surrounded by strangers, I was frantically trying to figure out what to do next.
What is protocol in these situations?
It was only day 2 of 8 of my exploratory trip. I could have,with all luck working in my favor, arrived back home with in about 48 hours. That option was my immediate reaction, but when I had a moment of clarity I realized it wasn’t the most logical.
He was gone. I would have rushed home to a body; but why? He was no longer there. So I chose to stay, finish my trip and take my time.
The benefits of staying
- I didn’t traverse around the country a happy little tourist, but I did take advantage of the opportunity I had been given. I took time to evaluate the preciousness of life, and therefore I was more attentive to all of it around me. I consciously observed more of nature and people than I ever had before.
“Life’s beauty is inseparable from its fragility.” -Susan David
- I didn’t have to be surrounded by people crying and hugging me. I was given the chance to grieve how I wanted, and when I wanted. This was beneficial for someone who’s personality is to distract from her own pain and issues by caring for others.
- It was a crash course in embracing uncertainty and vulnerability. It was scary to endure uncharted territory (emotionally and physically), but that also meant the choices were mine to make. I felt each emotion deeply in order to help break any attachments for the future.
- The pain could be broken into more bite-sized pieces. It wasn’t a whirlwind of decisions and rushed thoughts/actions. I was able to think of every aspect, if I chose to think of them at all.
The consequences of not going home
- This decision did not sit well with some family members who wanted to complete the traditional ‘funeral home showing to grave’’ route as soon as possible. The imposition of how I should grieve made it clear they wanted me to act for them, rather than to do what was best for me, his daughter.
- I didn’t have the comfort and support of my friends and family to the extent I would have had my loss been more “in their face”. When I started crying in a restaurant, I was just a crazy looking foreigner.
- People didn’t know how to “be there” for me. The amount and frequency of people who reached out to me was lower than it would have been if I was physically back home. As a result, I’ve battled with anger and confusion toward those I previously considered close.
- Because I didn’t have all of the weight of the situation and emotions thrown at me at one time, I experienced them creep up over a longer period of time, in sporadic moments. Since I was not there, something kept telling me, “It didn’t really happen, he’ll be there when you return.”
My dad didn’t want his death to be a big red STOP button on our lives. He wanted us to continue on living, enjoying, and being present. My conversations with him before his passing confirmed that, despite being shamed by some in the decisions I made.
My location during his death granted me the chance to re-write the way society had told me to mourn. It was unconventional, like my father. I learned that when our fragile souls are involved, there is no normal.