As Christmas approaches, so does my father’s birthday (December 23rd). The holidays have been more melancholy since he passed in 2018. The first holiday season without him was the worst of the bunch, and 2019 was lighter. This time around, the grief still lingers.
I wanted to write this post as almost a way of anticipating the day to come. I expect I’ll feel sad on his birthday this year. My sister wanted to gather with my brother and I this year, but we decided not to because of the virus. Either way, I figure I’ll do something to commemorate the day.
My father’s birthday makes me feel nostalgic and reflective. It also makes me think about my own grief process and the larger implications of grieving in a culture that doesn’t do well with the emotion.
I’ve had many therapists and people tell me over the years that American culture isn’t great with grief. I think it’s probably not just America, but also the influence of secular culture. I think back to my father’s funeral and viewing, and there were little to no traces of spirituality or religion. It felt like an empty ritual.
We had a Catholic priest we didn’t know say a few words, which also felt empty. There were no prayers or eulogies. There were many people, which was nice, but no real feeling of closure for me. Much of the closure I’ve felt over the past two years has come through my own private grieving process.
A new perspective
Some people believe grief has a way of transforming you. In metaphorical terms, it’s like traveling through a dark wilderness and emerging to sunlight on the other side.
My understanding of God has changed recently. While my father was sick, I petitioned my God endlessly, asking for things to happen a certain way. I discovered that’s not the way things work. People grow old and die, and sometimes people die at relatively young ages, like my father.
Spirituality and my connection with God feels deeper now. I read the Book of Job a lot during the past few years, trying to understand one of the most mysterious books of the Bible. It gave me comfort. When God comes out of the whirlwind and confronts Job, it made me think of myself and my endless petitions and my relentless questioning of why things are the way they are.
Who am I to ask such questions?
In the Bible, Job submits to God’s authority at the end. I used to see this as so passive, like God was such a jerk for making him suffer. But in metaphorical terms, it began to make sense to me. We go through life and experience emotional struggles and sometimes “dark nights of the soul.” We look for people to blame, ways to fix ourselves, but sometimes there’s no clear answer.
It just is. And perhaps that’s what God means when he speaks to Job. That life is full of hardship and suffering, and it’s pointless to ask why. That the answers are beyond our comprehension. That we can spend our whole lives searching for the meaning behind it all, and in the end, the answer is the Number 42 (so says Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).
This is where the grief process took me. My relationship with my father was the most significant one in my life, and it was through that relationship that I searched for my answers. And it was through the grieving process that I feel my spirituality deepened and took me to places I hadn’t been before.
A universal song
I recently read The Power of Myth, the famous book that compiles the interviews between the journalist Bill Moyers and the mythology scholar Joseph Campbell. The book reaffirmed my faith in the Divine. As Campbell explains, all cultures throughout history have created stories to explain the unexplainable and become one with some Divine Source. Each culture tells different stories – the story of Jesus, the Buddha, and many other mythological and religious tales. But each story has many similarities and recurring themes, like different instruments playing the same universal song.
I no longer pray to the God of the New Testament or the God of my Catholic childhood. Perhaps I still do a little. I strive to pray to the Great Unknown, with the understanding that faith and belief is a lifetime journey. When my father passed and I was in my darkest hours, I didn’t necessarily feel God didn’t exist or that He had abandoned me. It felt more like my connection, like spotty Wi-Fi, had gone out. And that happens sometimes.
As Christmas approaches, I will have moments of sadness and miss my dad. But I can give thanks and know that his passing is all part of a larger journey and a deepening of my faith.