the King Is Dead, Long Live the KingAs a boy, I remember being deeply concerned with the mortality of my father. After work, he would fall asleep on the couch, and before I would go to tap him on the shoulder to wake him up, I wondered if he had passed on and that my attempts to wake him would be futile. I was not particularly anxious or nervous about that moment -- it was more of a silent preparation for the when, and not if, of his inevitable demise.
I have since learned that there is very little that can prepare you for the death of a parent. While it is clichéd that a bad parental relationship might lead to regret later in life, a vibrant relationship with one's mother or father hurts just as much, as the loss is accentuated by the strands of friendship which added and colored to the bond.
My relationship with my father was somewhere in the middle, and years after his death, I still find myself grappling with the totality of who he was. He was loving, but he also arrogant; kind, but extremely judgmental; compassionate to the needy, but totally unforgiving to those he deemed unworthy of his affection. His was a world of defined roles and categories, yet also one where the most important duty was to aid one's fellow human. The simple fact was that he, like all of us, contained multitudes.
The night I learned of his death, I cried. But I did not begin to feel the weight of loss until many months later. At first it had just felt like he had gone on vacation. Only after some time had passed did the enormity of his absence begin to sink in.
It was at that point, after the funeral had been long over, that I began to suffer an incredible sense of loneliness. My father had been a role model and advisor; now, there was no one I felt I could look up to. I was completing a graduate program when he had died, and I felt extremely isolated from everything and everybody. I could not relate to the problems of my peers, who would complain about homework, classes, and youthful relationships, and I grew angry that I had no one with whom I could genuinely connect with. It would take time for me to realize that just as I could not blame anyone for the death of my father, it was wrong of me to blame other people for not being able to share in my experience.
Over time, the tremendous emptiness left by my father was slowly filled with my own presence. There is a saying, a very old saying -- "the King is dead, long live the King" -- which perhaps might articulate my own experience as a son learning to accept a world bereft of one's archetypal authority figure. I feel I was given incredible shoes to fill at a young age without any guide to point me in the right directions. I have made mistakes, and I will continue to do so, but I have also developed a deep sense of trust about my own capabilities. His death forced me to think about what really matters in life.
There is not a day that I do not think of him or wonder what he might think of me if he were still here; but by taking the best of his qualities and learning lessons from his life, I like to think that I have kept the flame of his spirit dancing within the halls of my own being. In that sense, he has never left, and he will continue to accompany me during the remainder of my own limited time on this planet.