This story starts in 1991, on my 20th birthday: I was due to visit my boyfriend’s parents that week but Mom wanted me to stay with her: if Frank (Louise’s dad) died in the middle of the night she didn’t want Louise, aged 7, to wake up and find herself alone in the house. The boyfriend went home without me.
On my birthday, around 9pm that night, Mom got the call she had been dreading. She threw her contact lenses in her eyes, got dressed and sped off hysterically to see Frank. I was left alone and standing in Louise’s bedroom doorway, quietly sobbing. The song “Silent Lucidity” by Queensryche was popular when Frank was dying:
I will be watching over you
Gonna help to see you through
I will protect you in the night…
Louise’s world was going to change for the worse and I was helpless to protect her. I was profoundly angry. I was helpless and in shock. Why did Frank have to die on my 20thbirthday?? Out of 365¼ days in the year, he had to die on my 20th birthday. Why?? I felt that there was some sort of cosmic statement being shouted at me precisely because he died on my birthday. But what was the Almighty saying?? When I decided I’d puzzled the reason out, I told Mom: Frank died on my 20th birthday precisely because he wanted Mom and Louise to have a happy reason to look forward to that day each year. He knew I wouldn’t take his dying on that day personally, and I didn’t. Frank was a kind man and my sister’s father. The cosmic message is, of course, of love.
In 2011, my dad’s death struck me, well, like a Hammer. Unfortunately, because of timings and money, I was unable to attend the funeral and let me tell you, not attending my father’s funeral left me a snotty wreck! I did what I could and – despite the time difference – I took the day and looked through some old photos and remembered the good times. Dad’s brother died about 10 days before I was born and Dad always had a soft place in his heart for the Beatles’ song “Let it be” – which was popular when Uncle John died and I was born.
And when the night is cloudy there is still a light that shines on me
Shine until tomorrow, let it be
Some weeks after Dad died I had a dream: I was in Dad’s house in Mahomet in the kitchen. There was a kitchen bar as a kind of barrier that I could not get around. Dad was standing where the kitchen table used to be and he was holding a little girl who giggled despite herself when he tickled her chin. Dad was unable to talk to me but pointedly tickled the little girl and then looked at me as if to say “It’s you!” I understood but was paralysed to tell him: he might be dead but he will always love me.
For some people, the death of a parent only reinforces their belief in a religion. I went the other way because I really struggled with the idea that any loving God would allow Dad to suffer for more than half a lifetime with Parkinson’s. So I began my journey to Buddhism. Initially I liked it because Buddhists do not address the question of a deity: they are only concerned with mitigating the suffering of themselves and all others. I felt relieved at the thought of no God. I admired the idea that there is no right or wrong but that there are skilful and unskilful behaviours that may increase suffering or decrease suffering. Then, I started to wrap my head around the notion of reincarnation and Karma. There are some points that, to my mind, make perfect sense when you consider reincarnation: for instance, if you don’t get something right in one lifetime, you can try again. Also, it helps to explain why you can, on occasion, find someone you instantly bond with – it’s as if you recognise them even if you’ve never met them before… I also like my idea of reincarnation because that means that Frank chose to die on my 20th birthday. With this thought, I felt even more respect towards Frank precisely because he chose to die on my birthday. Leaving the love of his life and his young daughter must have been extremely hard, but on some level, he knew I would be there to pick up the pieces.