Amazing Grace rang through my ears as my four sisters and I shouldered our father’s coffin down the aisle of our local church.
I’m not sure if the actual tune was playing at the time but it kept going around and around in my head. Focusing on the words, I felt a surreal strength. My mother and aunts walked behind the coffin, crying. Within minutes from then, he would be finally buried, laid to rest, his final peace.
I was busy – always busy – getting ready for a plane ride from London to Muscat when I got the call from my eldest sister. She asked me if I was sitting down. Of course I wasn’t – I rarely sat in silence in those days. Her tone worried me. It shook slightly. It was a cold chilly day in January 2006. I sat down. I knew what was coming. I was numb. I didn’t react. All I thought of was the Christmas before. The last time I had spoken with him. The last time he had kissed me sloppily on my cheeks and forehead. The last time I had seen him cry. The last living memory I had of my father.
I often wonder if he really knew he was going to die, or ‘peg out’ as he would say. With hindsight, that previous December after I had left after my Christmas holiday with my parents, I believe he knew what his fate would be within the following month, and maybe I even knew also.
But way back then, I blanketed that away also. Getting back into full force in work and storing it in the closets of my mind. That would not have been a picnic for any new emotional thought to do, for there was so much stored in those musty corners back then that anything new would have had a fair struggle to slash their way through the cobwebs in the recesses of my mind to vault anything else – always burying the things I could not deal with openly. Then suddenly I was burying my father’s remains.
Mortal death has never been the end to me. It is the loss of love that I find more difficult to deal with rather than a perceived finality in death. In the months following his burial, I genuinely saw my father free with life, soaring like an invisible bird in the sky, healthy and alive. It was my loss that took a long time to emerge, and when it did, it hit me like a head on collision with a train; five years later.
It was my friend, Jonathan, who became my mirror, reflecting the emotions that I had been avoiding. It was he who helped me confront that void, that emptiness that I had felt for the five years that followed my father’s death.
The crux was that despite all my own growth and openness, I had been unconsciously looking to fill a vessel of love which had passed with my father – the container of true human love in the essence of what only true can be. I was seeking the recognition of my own true love through another who would be framed exactly like me. But it was the loss of my dad I had wanted to replace, and talking it through openly with Jonathan was the trigger that brought it wide open to the surface. Only then could I start to confront it and heal it.
It wasn’t easy. With guidance I had to release this human longing from the very fibres of my veins and from the smallest cells within my body. I had to free my body from holding the energy of such a longing. I had to release my body from such restraints. There was no other way for it. I had to scream. Running out into the wilderness with no one around, expanding my lungs and chest and extending my arms straight out perpendicular to my body – I howled like a wild animal for my father’s life and my love until I felt I had no breath left. And then I did it all over again; several times. I shouted for the sorrow I felt, the fear I had felt with the perceived loss of love, and the anger I felt for the hollow that had been left inside. I had to cut loose the binding, bondage and chains that I had created that had left me seeking this falsely perceived void inside.
For five years I had clung onto something that in the end only took me days to set free. Of course, this ultimately came back to me, in the form of something internal and not external. It was only when I understood that about myself that I was finally able to let go; let go of him, my father.
When I finished my cry into the universe, I sat down. And I cried some more. I allowed the feeling to flow. I no longer stopped it. This was me in the fullest of my rawness. When I arrived back home, I chose to remain sitting outdoors. The sun was scorching down yet a spell of rain fell with it. And then something beautiful happened. I had a moment. It was the meaning of the moment that held significance.
It struck me for the first time that it is possible for the sun to shine brightly down while also getting rained on at the same time. I thought briefly about running to grab my bed sheets which swayed on the clothes line, spots of rain had already heavily freckled them. But I paused.
Could I trust that the heat of the sun was so powerful that once the rain passed, the damp clothes on the line would evaporate into a new dryness? Or would I run and grab them, and save them? Would I trust and let it be? Or would I make more work for myself? I wondered was it possible for me or anyone else to continue to shine brightly while the rain fell on us also. Was I a burning light that experienced crap sometimes in my life? Or was I allowing the rain to determine how I reacted, behaved and lived my life? Was I constantly getting in my own way with a false belief that I was saving myself yet making things harder for myself? Or did I really trust that the sun continued to shine inside? Was I truly living my life in the knowledge that I was a ray of pure light even though the rain came and passed? Did I rush and react when the rain came? Or did I know the light was always stronger? Which one prevailed? Which one was it that I allowed to control me?
Immediately I felt immense relief. I understood something new. I had the release that I had so desperately needed for years. I knew the answer.
The sun was always shining, it is a giant ball of burning light, it cannot be quenched unless it allows itself to burn out. It doesn’t matter that it is sometimes veiled by the clouds and the rain. It never goes away even at night time when we cannot see it. The light is always there even in apparent darkness.
Then something else occurred to me. It stopped me in my tracks momentarily. I was on a roll with self-truths. I thought of my dear friend, Vincent, the son my father never had. Had I made a close association with him because I linked him dearly with my father? Was Vincent a thin string I held to his remnants? Would I have to cut ties with Vincent also? Would I have to release Vincent from my life also?
I smiled at myself. The answer was in my body. The firm feeling I had become accustomed to recognising resonated within me. I resolved to follow that feeling. My friendship with Vincent was as it was. It is face value. He is neither a replacement nor a substitute for any loss. He is my friend; a true friend.
It rained heavily the day my father was buried. I’m not sure whether my family or I cared to notice. The graveyard seemed full to capacity as his body was lowered into the open earth where my grandparents had also been buried, yet despite the prayers and loud voices, the atmosphere was sombre. We let red roses fall down onto his coffin, six foot beneath the earth, his favourite flowers. Our warm tears distinct from the rain – and Vincent poured a litre bottle of twelve-year-old special reserve whiskey over the mound of earth that then covered him. We toasted his death.
I cried privately for his loss, though I had not fully understood the impact of his loss at that point in time. I felt that my father was proud at how we had all come together so wonderfully to celebrate his death. I even felt him smile beneath my feet.
From that day to this, I cannot remember nor register the heaviness of my father’s coffin as it rested on my shoulders. He had found peace and I have now found mine also. There was always a price to pay – but there is no price I can place on peace of mind and the value of my soul.
– With love, Mairéad.
Mairéad Whyte is the author of the novel, All for Grace – a quirky spiritual novel, which presents entirely new perspective on death and birth. It tells the story of an Irishman’s fictional quest through the afterlife as he struggles to release his past to find redemption through rebirth. An uplifting novel of love and hope, light-hearted and easy to read, the story provides a metaphor of the self in a fractured society.
It combines the ordinary with the extraordinary, the physical and the spiritual worlds, and the serious with the funny. It is one of a kind with raving reviews.
She is currently near completion of her second novel, “The Butterfly” – based on true events, it is one woman’s transformation following her near-death experience as she journey’s into the unknown to pursue her destiny. The reader is left with an uplifted feeling through an upbeat and humorous narrative.