#TBT: Grief Lessons II: Unthinkable (I'm Ready)
Whatever that even means.
when i wrote my original grief lessons post several months after baba's passing, i thought i wasn't ready to be an "authority" on a topic that affects so many people so differently. i was still trying to understand my grief, i didn't feel ready to write about it in a way that was sensitive to others' experiences with grief. i was being so thoughtful, so overly analytical, and so conscious of the influence i have with this platform.
in reality, i needed to see that "readiness" is an illusion. i have been ready for so many things. i am still trying to find a balance between my obsession with coming prepared and the understanding that some things, i will never truly be prepared for. these days, i've learned to strike a balance by choosing my heart over my mind more often than not. and as for the platform, i'm learning that speaking my truth alone is so much more than "good enough."
the five lessons below are a continuation of my original grief lessons post written six months ago. like the original, these lessons too, are addressed to my father. as you will see, i am such a changed person since my last post, but the healing and truth-seeking that came out of that original post was truly instrumental in getting me here. again, i hope my truth helps you as much as it has helped me.
GRIEF LESSONS (PART II)
hi my love,
i miss you. but you know that. i miss you differently today though. i am so happy for you. I don't want you back. I want you exactly where you are because you deserve it. like i said to you in that poem years ago: " stay. i wANT TO make that journey across the ocean alone just to meet you where you are." I MEANT IT THEN, AND it means even more today than it did when i wrote it. you have done so much for us baba. so much that i am still learning from you every single day. i am ready to do those things for myself now. keep resting peacefully my angel. you always knew we'd be good, and though i once thought it unthinkable, now i know too.
i went to get my oil change today and there was a woman sitting in the waiting room with me who looked about my age. we started talking and it turns out, she went to fordson too and graduated in '07. when i told her i was also a fordson alum, she said: "ugh. i hated that place so much. i can't stand even thinking about it. i hated every minute of it." i nodded my head listening, afraid she would say something bad about you, too. i just don't know how i knew your name would come up. and then it happened. "but my principal...mr. fadlallah. i just can't believe he passed away. so sad. i just couldn't believe it when i found out. he was such a great guy."
MY HEART MUST HAVE SMILED SO BIG.
in her cloudy, stormy memory of high-school, you were her beautiful rainbow. sounds ABOUT RIGHT.
before that conversation, i was crying all morning because of you baba, but we'll get to why in a minute. before meeting that woman, i had to go to the bathroom at the nissan dealership to cry in private because, as you know, grief comes and goes as it pleases, regardless what is or isn't convenient for you. and it was time to grieve. so i did. but in light of this morning's thunderstorm, i get a rainbow. you are still alive in so many hearts, and i'm blessed with these beautiful reminders in so many of these interactions. they don't even seem random to me anymore. because of all you have left me with, I'm so ready, baba. let me explain:
1. I AM READY TO TAKE CARE OF MYSELF, TO MAKE THINGS "OKAY" ON MY OWN
my whole life, I never had to say anything, you just always knew. we were perfect for each other in this way, just like you and mama are perfect for each other. and you must have known your first-born daughter was like her mama in her inability to ask for help. i really struggle asking for help. like really struggle. other people have noticed, i guess. i don't know why i'm like this and how i'm only now realizing this about myself. i would rather put myself through the most excruciating pain than ask someone to help me through it.
i realize now that i never had to ask you. you just always knew. and more notably, you never made me feel like i was asking for anything, you just did exactly what you knew i needed. how did you do that? yesterday, i pinched a nerve in my lower back mid-workout. i didn't think it was a big deal until i pulled into the garage at night and tried getting out of the car. i couldn't get out. i tried standing three different times, all resulting in sharp pains through my back and legs. it was so bad that all three times, i was just stuck there, unable to take a step forward and unable to sit back down. i felt so helpless. after the third failed attempt, i figured i should probably call someone to help me.
then, sitting there looking around your newly renovated garage (aka your toyhouse) as if the answer was somewhere there, i let my thoughts wander for a second. our home is a constant symbol of the life that was (with your body) and the life that is (with your spirit). i sat there imagining what would happen if you were home: you would have heard the garage open, waited a couple minutes, then opened the door wondering why i hadn't walked in the house yet. most times, when you did this, it was because i was in the car on the phone still. you'd open the door looking concerned, then smile and let the door close behind you. surely, this time, you would have taken one look at me and automatically known you needed to carry your 25 year old baby out of the car and into the house.
i immediately burst into tears at how much i needed you in that moment and how frustrated i felt that i had to pick up the phone and call someone for help. your nephew next door came to the rescue, helping me on my feet and into the house. i cried all morning thinking about this baba. i just never realized how magical you were in my life. how god blessed me with a father who never made me feel weak, even at my most vulnerable. i realize now that you were the only person in the world whom i allowed to see me this way. you were the only person i felt safe being this weak with. i needed to lose you to learn to give myself the strength and security you always gave so generously. i'm ready to take care of myself now.
2. I AM READY TO HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD THAT DOESN'T INCLUDE YOU
it sounds harsh, but you know better. you have always wanted this for me. you have always wanted me to want this for myself, but i don't think i realized i was ready to have this all along. i mentioned this before, but deep down inside at the very root of my pain, i thought i wasn't good enough for god. i thought that he wouldn't accept me, flaws and all. i had a low opinion of myself because i knew i wasn't being the best version of myself or walking in my purpose, so, like many genuinely good people, i was ashamed to have a relationship with my creator, who always saw me as my best self.
but i always knew you were good enough for god. i didn't question that for a minute. i wonder if you questioned that? you are the closest thing to perfect i've ever known. surely, god would allow me to speak to him through you. imad fadlallah's daughter would surely get some favor. but, how low was my opinion of myself? how flawed was my perception of our merciful, gracious god that i felt he would shun me unless i was associated with you? i'm blessed with your spirit in your son ali, always there to tell me what i most need to hear, even if i'm "not ready" to hear it (whatever that even means). he told me: "your father was an amazing man. but he's not god meme. he never was. you need to find a relationship with god outside of baba."
if i'm really honest, it took me so long to stop praying to you. it took me so long to realize that all i'm being blessed with is not coming from you, it's coming from god. don't get me wrong, i never thought you were equivalent to god. i just figured if good things were happening to me, it's because you asked. because you were putting a word in. god is only favoring me because i'm your daughter.
but i'm ready to have a relationship with him that doesn't include you. i deserve it. so many amazing things have been happening to me. and i've been praying so much. and half the time i pray now, i don't even think of you. i'm so proud of myself. i finally realize i'm so much more than good enough. because of me. i'm slowly but surely needing you less and less, and i feel you smiling. i literally feel your spirit saying "see? i told you it would all be okay. i told you you'd be good. you've been ready for this my love."
3. I AM READY TO BE A GREAT PERSON.
my heart has changed so much. i would say i hardly recognize it anymore, but it's really the opposite. i'm more "me" than i've ever been. i love everything I am becoming. i love that i'm embracing god. i love that i've opened my heart up to anyone and everyone. i love that i'm learning from you in this way. i really still have so much to learn from you my love. every single one of your kids is the best they've ever been since you had to go, and that's no coincidence. your presence in our lives, though shortlived, left us with so many reasons to be proud and happy and excited. yes, even in your absence.
in a letter to your son ali (aka the golden child), you told him that jido (allah yerhamo) wanted you to be better than him. not financially or socially, but he wanted you to be a better man. with better morals and a better heart. your heart is so beautiful. heart failure sounds like a punchline to a really bad joke. your heart has changed so many lives, and it's changing mine every day. in the letter, you told ali you wanted him to be better. i take this advice every day. i have ways to go to be as good as you were, but you and mama have equipped us with more than enough to surpass your deeds. it is quite literally the least we could do.
i feel closer and closer to my purpose every day, with you in mind always. i got some amazing news the other day. i know you knew before i did, but after i read the fati7a and thanked god for blessing me, once again, i just sat and had a moment with you. before i called anyone. i just sat, cross legged in the bed, and cried such happy tears with you. i believe you cried the same happy tears you did when ali got into emory after one of the hardest years of his life. i wanted so badly to have a physical moment with you, because surely your joy would have swallowed mine whole.
it is in these moments - the happy moments that will forever be riddled in sadness and yearning - that i realize how lucky i am. i was born to a father so worthy of being missed in moments of celebration. i was born to a father who cried happy tears with his children. i was born to a father who, with one look and kiss on the cheek, could chase away my wildest fears and anxieties. i was born to a father who wanted nothing from us but to spend our lives seeking truth and serving others. i am still the luckiest girl alive. and i have always been ready.
4. I AM READY TO BE THE WOMAN YOU ALWAYS KNEW I COULD BE.
you always saw me as my best self. i just couldn't understand it. at my worst, you never stopped seeing me as my best. you never stopped trying to get me to see it, too. you never stopped challenging me, holding me accountable. on a random car ride home the other day, i realized that you showed your love through your exceedingly high expectations of people. you did this with your family, with your students, with your friends. even if it meant you were let down or taken advantage of, you continued to boldly see people as their best selves in hopes they would see themselves this way too.
i see myself in this way now, thanks to you and your constant reminders. you would look at me so lovingly and say: "baba, i don't know what you're looking for, but you won't find it anywhere but home." i always play this scene in my head. it really grounds me with so many things. at a wedding the other night, i ran into your cousin's son (on whom i barely thought you had an impact). he told me that whenever he is doing something he shouldn't do, your voice reminds him of who he should be. i welled up in wonderment: who haven't you moved?
every day, i work to grow into that day's version of "my best self." i let the pain change me for the better. i take all the lessons from the failures. i let challenging people and challenging moments invite me to be my most compassionate and collected self. and i feel you smiling within me. i smile back, because i love who i'm becoming. thanks to your example. i had it in me all along, and you were right, all i needed to do was come back home.
i am almost whole. i don't care about petty things anymore. i am learning to seek affirmation only from god. i am listening to my heart. i am letting myself feel everything i am supposed to feel. i am praying so much. i am such a nice, loving person who even smiles at strangers now. i am honoring your name in every single way possible, but i think what is most important is that i am honoring my name. i am doing it because of your example, but i am doing it for me, finally. finally. i'm ready to be the woman you always showed me i could be.
5. I AM READY FOR A HEALTHY LOVE
i thought i was ready to fall in love a month before you had to go. at that time, with no fear of losing you, i was beginning to develop a relationship with god (even if through you initially). things were going so well, baba, even you noticed. i felt my spirit being pulled in a new direction. i felt my heart changing and growing. i felt a force pulling me back home. back towards myself. back towards you and all things i love the most. and most importantly, it was all happening for me. so i thought i was finally ready to fall in love.
and then it happened. you had to go. and i immediately tried closing my heart again. i didn't want it to belong to anyone but you. but god forced it open. so i negotiated with him (or at least i thought i was negotiating). i prayed to god and told him that i'm letting him take control, but i asked him to keep love away from me for at least a year. at least enough time for me to understand grief. by then, i will have experienced all the "Firsts": first holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. i needed at least a year because i was terrified of myself. i was so scared i would try to fill the voids that your absence left me with.
i never knew grief before, but i knew myself well enough to know i didn't want to create crutches. it wouldn't be fair to them, to me, to you, to the family, to god. it would just be wrong, so i asked god to keep love away. and i was right. in the year after march 13th, even with this "negotiation," i would catch myself instinctively looking for pieces of your heart in other men: friends, family members, whoever. i would shut it down immediately before i created a crutch, but this realization showed me that i was right to focus on me. it showed me how needy i was in the wake of your transition.
i realize now that, prior to march 13th, god was preparing me to traverse the path i would need to stay on while grieving. so i trusted him. i stayed the course. i did it the hard way. sure, i hit some roadblocks and re-routed, but between looking in my rearview and focusing on the road ahead, i stayed the course. and now i'm here. readier than ever to keep my heart open. to drop everything and love.
I love you habibi. i am so happy for you every single day.
i hope that my reflections reaffirm what you've known all along:
proudly your daughter,
rima imad fadlallah