My father passed away on March 16, 2011. He was a beautiful man, strong, caring, and generous. He had loads of friends whom he cherished, loved being with people, and had a zest for life that drew people to him like a magnet. I have a very close, loving, and deeply respectful relationship with my dad. He was always my rock, and a deeply loving friend. No matter what I did, he always saw the best in me. His departure is a great loss.
But my experience of his passing is not so much loss as it is love and appreciation. Perhaps that is aided by his fifteen month battle with cancer. As you likely know, cancer is an insidious disease that slowly sucks the life out of loved one’s bodies. It was time for him to go. We all knew it, and we all had time to share tender moments of completion with him. Dad left being ready to go. He felt complete, appreciative and deeply satisfied with his life, and he knew he was loved and cared for by his family and friends. He departed with his loving wife of sixty years, my mother, at his side.
I am sure that all this helps me feel not my loss as much as my love and appreciation of dad. I know that his own readiness helps me live in the joyful memories of sharing these past 57 years of fun, pain, and growth with him. But there is more to it.
My friend and colleague, Bev Kaye, whom you may know of from her great books on employee retention (Love ‘Em or Leave “Em), sent me this beautiful poem yesterday that provides some insight. I am sorry but I do not know the author:
You can shed tears that he is gone,
Or you can smile because he has lived.
You can close your eyes and pray that he’ll come back,
Or you can open your eyes and see all that he has left.
Your heart can be empty because you can’t see him,
Or you can be full of the love you shared.
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember him and only that he is gone,
Or you can cherish his memory and let it live on.
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back, or you can do what he’d want…
Smile, open your eyes, love and go on!
The hardest transition – the death of a loved one – makes the truth of this poem so self-evident. But this truth is present in any transition, whether in our personal or organizational lives. Let’s unpack it.
In transition, we either lean away or towards it. We either orient to the past or the future. But more importantly, we either contract or expand in our way of being in these moments. Do we keep our hearts and minds open, or do we close off to feelings we do not like? Do we open and embrace those feelings, or do we deny and close down to them? When we close down to painful emotions (resistance), our hearts and minds close as well. The key to all transitions is being able to find comfort (stay open) in your discomfort.
My mom and I had a beautiful conversation about this personal dynamic two nights ago as we sat eating a lovely dinner at her and dad’s favorite restaurant in celebration of dad’s life. We talked about the fact that the pain of his departure will wave through us, and that our chosen way of being was to turn into that pain and allow ourselves to feel it fully, to let it pulse through us so we could express it, release it and get through it. Neither of us wanted to close off to the pain, as we both know that it will then get stuck in us and linger for years. We talked about the fact that if we can do this, then we can keep our love for dad alive in our hearts and minds because our love and memories will then stay alive in us. But if we close off to the pain, then we will simultaneously put dad’s memory in the background for it will be too painful to keep it fresh. We both choose to feel our pain so we can continue to feel dad and the love and joy he brought to our lives.
This, of course, is an advanced self mastery skill, and none of us do it masterfully all the time. But understand this – this understanding and skill is at the core of being a conscious change leader. The essential practice of self development and personal evolution is to open yourself and feel what your ego is trying to deny, as that extends the boundary of who your ego thinks you are into the greater depths of being and becoming of who you truly are. Ego is conditional. It sets boundaries and closes off to what it doesn’t like. Being is unconditional. It opens and stays present to all of life’s expressions. Residing in Being allows our love, connection and contribution to flow freely into the world in its highest forms. Being is the home of the inner comfort that allows us to face the discomfort. I know my dad would want his passing to strengthen my ability to reside in Being, and to this, I am both committed and thankful.