Grief Lessons: The Emotional Alchemist
THE EMOTIONAL ALCHEMIST
Shortly after my father's sudden passing, I came across this article describing the phrase "emotional alchemy" as "a way to radically change unconscious reactions into conscious responses." the fact that there was a phrase to describe the way I had been coping (and would continue to cope with) my father's transition excited and inspired me. see, just as Paulo Coelho's alchemist turned coal into gold, I, as an emotional alchemist, was turning my grief into golden gratitude every single day.
the five lessons below are addressed to my father, and they serve as one of my many golden tokens of gratitude to him and to God for carrying me so delicately through this time. while i recognize and respect that everyone grieves differently, i pray that my lessons speak to those who have dealt with or are dealing with similar hardship.
Baba my love,
One day, I won't have to write to you. One day, I'll feel that you are "closer to [me] than [my] jugular vein." Some days, I feel this close to you. But until we can turn "some days" into "every day," I will write. I know that you know my most intimate thoughts; I know you know my heart; I know you know the subconscious fears and regrets that I have not yet confronted; I know you know the ways in which I still learn from you every single day. i know you're even prouder of me than i am of myself. Still, I write to you, in hopes that you will become more and more a part of me than you already are.
1. BABA, YOU TAUGHT ME HUMILITY. YOU'VE PUSHED ME TO FINALLY ACCEPT THAT SOME REACTIONS ARE OKAY. YOU MAKE ME A BETTER PERSON EVERY SINGLE DAY.
I was always your little rebel. I am so much like you and mama and I love it so much. My relentless rebelliousness was both your favorite and least favorite quality of mine. like you, i put principle over people, morals over mainstream. but i needed to realize that i wasn't and still am not you. i didn't endure what you endured. i am not as wise and mature as you. i'm me. and i still have so much to learn from you.
after you passed, i didn't want to do anything reactionary. i didn't want your death to change me. I didn't want to start getting closer to the family suddenly. I didn't want to get closer to god suddenly. I didn't want your death to be the reason i got rid of old habits, even when i knew i needed to. your relentlessly rebellious daughter ran away from anything that resembled a reaction.
but your daughter needed to learn from your humility. thank god she had you in your son Ali, who sat me down and reassured me that being reactive, in many situations, is the right thing to do. i'm closer to the family now Baba. I'm closer to God. I got rid of those old habits. you've taught me humility, and now there's no going back.
2. BECAUSE OF YOU, I KNOW HOW TO DROP EVERYTHING AND LOVE.
i woke up one morning with this line playing over and over in my subconscious mind: "just drop everything and love." i got up, washed my face, brushed my teeth, and the line was still playing on repeat. i got dressed, still playing. I didn't become conscious of it until I was leaving the house. I quickly typed it into my phone to make sure it wasn't some song lyric or quote. I should've known it wasn't. i was having a revelation.
that revelation offered me so much clarity in the midst of calamity. from that day on, I have learned to truly drop everything and love those around me. last week, a close colleague told me that when she thinks of me, she thinks of "love" - my aura, the way i greet her with a "hi my love" every morning. on the car ride home that evening, i called your brother jihad to check on him. he answered the phone with a "hi my love."
when i hung up, i immediately bawled at how much he sounded like you, how much i missed hearing you say that. you are love, baba. everything about you is coated in deep passion and affection. and love lives on: people who haven't even met you are still becoming better because of your legacy of love. your heart made room for everyone Baba, it invited them to stay a while, to get comfortable. I want to be just like you, so for now, i drop everything and love.
3. YOU SHOWED ME GOD. YOU TAUGHT ME THAT GOD IS ENOUGH TO EXPLAIN THE OTHERWISE UNTHINKABLE.
i cry every single day in the car. i have learned and healed a lot from my car-ride cry sessions. i realized that i'm more compelled to cry in the car as opposed to anywhere else because it is the only place where i can consistently cry as loud as i need to without worrying about how it makes others feel. i need to hear myself sob and scream so i can recognize and truly appreciate how raw my grief is. i need to let myself feel every emotion i'm supposed to feel. no hiding.
another thing i realized on these car-ride cry sessions is that i can be happy and sad simultaneously, that this binary between happiness and sadness is faulty. most car rides, i feel elated and i'm singing and dancing along to my music; before you know it, i'm sobbing from the depths of my heart. somehow, in these moments, i find myself thanking god with the same breath i take to let out another cry.
strangely enough, it is in these exact moments where i've found god. where i developed a respect for my grief. where i stopped trying to control everything. there is no other way for me to explain how i could possibly be so happy and grateful while the tears stream down my face, the cries get louder. and that's okay. some things have no other explanation but god, and i'm grateful to have finally learned that.
4. YOU ARE ALWAYS THERE TO REMIND ME THAT I HAVEN'T LOST YOU. THAT GRATITUDE IS THE INVERSE OF GREED.
i dream about you several times a week Baba. I don't know if this is you coming to visit me, me thinking of you constantly, or a bit of both, and i honestly stopped caring. i'm grateful for all of it. you were never mine to begin with, so i've learned to truly feel blessed every time i am graced with your presence. i know you would tell me that anything else, while completely understandable, would be greedy.
my favorite dream was the one of us having a very baba-meme like argument: as usual, i keep pushing my point and don't let you get a word in because i know you're not hearing me out. as it always goes, you finally say "are you going to shut up and let me talk, or are you just gonna keep arguing?" i stopped, thought about it, and boldly replied: "actually no. this time, i need you listen to me. i need you to teach me while i still have you here. after i wake up, you won't be here and i will be left with my opinions."
at that moment, instead of matching my playful aggression, you give me that sad, prideful smile - an expression nobody i know has been able to master - and you quietly say "you are absolutely right." i can't tell you how important this exchange was for me baba. i think about it all the time. it taught me that i am fully capable of applying the lessons you taught me, of living by your admirable example. most importantly, it showed me that you trust me to do the right thing, for me first, before it could ever be for anyone else.
5. I HAVE INHERITED YOUR STRENGTH. EVERY STEP OF THE WAY, I HAVE FELT EQUIPPED TO DO IT THE HARD (READ: RIGHT) WAY.
i'll never forget how strong i felt immediately after you passed. how i stood up in front of our community and read my letter to you. your body was still warm baba. i felt everything. i wasn't in denial. i missed you already. i just couldn't understand what had come over me. feelings of self-doubt tormented me, telling me that the strength was temporary, that with time, i would revert back to the weakling i always suspected i was. after all, my biggest fear was now a reality; the strength must have been temporary.
but my strength only grew from there. and with this continual growth, my self-doubt deteriorated. now, i know that i inherited your strength, Baba. i may have even expanded on it. i've always had that flame inside of me, but these days, it feels like wildfire. nothing could extinguish the fire i feel in my soul, and i know that i inherited this from you. i guess i should've known i was a force to be reckoned with, for I was welded by a warrior.
i want to do it all the hard way. no distractions, no shortcuts, no crutches, no breaks. i just want to feel everything i am supposed to feel. i want to keep crying and laughing every day for you. i want to be everything that i am supposed to be. i want to love like you love. i want to honor myself (and thereby honor you and God) exactly how i am supposed to. i'm ready baba, and i know, i know that this is no coincidence.
I love you Baba. i will write again soon. until then, i will see you in my dreams.
proudly your daughter,
rima imad fadlallah