The empty cedar chest.
My dad died 20 years ago of a sudden heart attack. My fathers death was difficult, he was only 61. It was like a storm blowing through uprooting everything. Then, as now with my mother, I tended the details. It was surreal. He died the morning of December 23rd. I lived on Kauai at the time and was at my parents house for Christmas. The memorial decisions had to be made that day because the funeral home was closing for Christmas. So it was only a few short hours between my dad being alive and me sitting in an office having to make the inane decision of what to put on the cover of his funeral cards.
People were stunned. He had a large community of friends and family. Food and flowers and phone calls filled the house. His funeral 4 days later was attended by hundreds in a standing room only chapel. My mom was numb and I was glad to be able to take care of it all for her.
Then a couple weeks later I went home. Back to a life that had not included my dad in any day to day way for many years. I grieved my dad, we were very close and had a much easier relationship than my mom and I. but honestly it did not change the flow of the life I was living much at all. Then and now, I continued to feel close to him. He remains a part of me as it was him who taught me about fierce Heart-open-wide love.
My mom died 6 weeks ago after a several year decline with Alzheimer‘s. 2 of those years she lived with me. She was 80 years old. Alzheimer’s is a long good-by. The vibrant woman my mother was, slowly went away. Replaced by someone, who at times, could be a very different person than the mother I knew and loved.
And while my fathers death arrived as a storm... My mothers death arrived as a slow leak that erodes a path one drop at a time. To her family and friends it was not stunning. Actually the most frequent comment I heard was some version of ‘now she is finally at peace’. Not a wail of loss... But a whimper of relief.
Yet for me my mothers death is so much more difficult than my fathers. Part of it is of course my direct experience of her slow decline. Tending her day to day life the last couple years. And I am 20 years older, at 55 I now have fewer years in front of be than behind me.
But there is much more to the difficult place I now find myself. I am beginning to recognize the effect of ‘being an orphan’. That my parents are gone. The death of anyone close to us potentiates a personal life review. My mother and father are the people I have known my entire life. They are my beginning. I have spent more time re-visiting childhood in the last 6 weeks than any other time in my life. That leads to a journey of reviewing my entire life. Who were the constants in that life? My parents.
It is a profound and difficult Journey. I am facing dragons... And finding treasure.
In addition to my own life review I find myself very present with the ‘time before me’ in my parents life. Their childhood, when they met and the 6 years they were together before I was born. This journey is helped by going through the things left from that time. Papers, photos a few saved objects. Being present with 2 lives. Witnessing. Honoring. Remembering. Not just their lives but the threads of them woven with-in me. This is how we are immortal.
I am just about finished with the ‘things’ of their life. Mostly my mom’s but my dad’s possessions that she kept. Some things I have integrated into my home. I have given treasures to specific people. Given useful but not emotional stuff to those who can use them. I am getting to the goodwill boxes. Somehow it is so much easier to give the objects of a lifetime to someone who will use them than a stranger who will take full boxes and than hand me a slip of paper for taxes. I guess knowing who I give something to, is another way she... Continues.
And for myself a couple boxes that contain the ‘proof‘ of two lifetimes. I am observing in myself what matters to me. What I choose to keep. That information is as much about me as it is about them.
I honor the lives of Leonard Richard Kunkel and Frances Peck Kunkel. From this moment on, I choose how to continue their lives through my own. What I release. What I integrate. I love you mom. I love you dad. Love never born... Love never died. Love remains.