My family recently experienced a tragedy when my sister's husband passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. We lost our father suddenly as well - he died of a heart attack - and so my sister asked me to speak at the memorial service about what it was like to lose a parent, hoping it would bring meaning and comfort to her four children.
Reflections on Being a Daughter
I’m so grateful for the opportunity to speak today, especially to you D, R, L and M. As your mom's littlest sister, the youngest of all the Gyovai children, I was 8 years old when she and your dad were married. I’m 33 now, with a husband and daughter of my own. Of course, in that time they had their family – the four of you – and here you are, grown and growing into wonderful young people.
We share more than our Gyovai heritage, now. I was almost 11, just about M’s age, when my dad – our dad – died.
I know many of us here have had a friend or a family member experience something painful, something tragic, and all we can say to them is, “I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine what you must be going through.” To you, M, and you, L, and you, R, and you, D, I can imagine what you are going through. And I am so very sorry.
In the 22 years since my dad died, I have come to understand that losing a parent – at any age, under any circumstance – is a terrible loss. It is one of the biggest markers in any person’s life, and it is a milestone through which we all must eventually pass.
But I have also realized that losing a parent so suddenly, so unexpectedly – when they are still so young, and you are still so young, too – is profoundly life changing in a way few people will ever truly understand.
As someone who does understand, I’d like to share with you two things. The first is a quote, the one I send as a signature on all my emails. By Emmanuel Teney, it says, “There are no guarantees. From the viewpoint of fear none are strong enough. From the viewpoint of love none are necessary.”
After losing my dad, this is something I know deep in my bones – that there are no guarantees. We can never know what tomorrow holds. But we get to make the choice: will we be afraid – of trust, of intimacy, of being hurt – or will we greet each day grateful for another chance to live and love with an open heart? Will we turn away for fear of risk or rejection, or will we act with the knowledge that each moment we have is sacred?
This choice is something many people will never even know they have. But now you know. You know in the way I know.
At times I think the Grace of God comes to us as “the Awful Grace.” This is one of those times. If there is a gift to be found within the heartbreaking loss of your father, may it be the wisdom to see and the courage to choose love in the absence of any guarantees: to live fully your one wild and precious life.
The second thing I would share with you is something a friend said to me only last week. We were talking about my dad and she said, “He may be gone but the relationship continues.” He may be gone but the relationship continues… I’m sure people have said that to me before – I know my mom has – but somehow I never really heard it until now. I wish I had, because it’s probably the most important thing to know about losing someone you love: they are never really gone.
After 2 decades I don’t think so much of the anniversaries anymore – my dad’s birthday, the day he died – as I remember him in the little moments… sunlight catching the dew in the early morning grass…a deer standing at the edge of a field…fresh vegetables from the garden, grown by my own hand… He was with me at my wedding and at the birth of my child, and he is with me when I look through a camera lens or meander through the woods.
And your dad is with you. He is a part of you. You are just beginning a new chapter of your relationship with him, a relationship that will go on for the rest of your life.
Keep pictures of him nearby. Keep asking your mom questions about who he was, and keep sharing stories of your times with him. Go to a basketball game with your girlfriend or your husband and tell them it was your dad’s favorite sport. Read the books he liked best and wonder what it was that made them so special. Take your children to a concert or teach them to play an instrument, and remind them of how much their grandpa loved music.
This is a real, living relationship – not one that is frozen in time. My dad wasn’t a perfect man, a perfect husband or a perfect father. It’s okay to be hurt by the things that were said – or unsaid; the things done – or undone. Your memory will not be tarnished or your love made any less. The more you come to know your dad as a nuanced and complicated person – as we all are – the richer and deeper your relationship with him will be.
And I would say to everyone here – the friends, teachers, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and to you, my sister – it is your job to honor this relationship. And not just honor it, but foster it. Too many times we are afraid to say a thing for fear of being hurtful. Too many times we assume vulnerability and therefore overprotect.
Yes, there will be times when it’s simply too painful to talk about. There will be moments when the wounds still feel too fresh. But do not make the mistake of assuming that means you should stop holding the door open. You may not always know the right thing to say or do. Just keep trying.
L and D, R and M, you will always carry your dad with you, and your relationship with him will continue to unfold over a lifetime. You, too, will come to learn many things as you reflect on what it means to be a son, or a daughter.
One of my favorite elements of their interfaith ceremony was the incredible chuppah. Here's an excerpt from the ceremony:
"Today we formalize your union under this beautiful chuppah, made by Meghan’s father. The wedding canopy, made by Meghan’s mother from pieces of fabric contributed by both families, represents your marriage home, a place of shelter and haven of peace. The chuppah is the house of promises, held up by the strength of your dedication and love. It is the home of hope, surrounded with the support of your community."
The couple also chose to include a hand-fasting ritual using a special scarf that belonged to the groom's mother. Honoring the bride's Irish heritage, here's an excerpt:
The sacred promises you make to one another form an unbreakable bond. As you hold the hands of your beloved, I would offer your marriage this traditional Irish blessing:
It's no wonder Style Me Pretty Massachusetts featured their wedding, especially with such stunning images from Isabelle Selby Photography! Here's what Persis had to say about working together:
"Hannah was a wonderful officiant – she crafted a beautiful ceremony that was reflective of our values and relationship. The ceremony was our favorite part of our wedding, thanks to her guidance and honest writing. She was very responsive to our needs throughout this process and really took the time to get to know us as a couple, which made our ceremony that much more meaningful. I highly recommend working with her!"
Persis and Ryan's ceremony had so many phenomenal details...from a very poignant remembrance of the couple's grandparents and the groom's father who had recently passed away to a community vow after the couple's individual wedding vows, to a song by both the bride's mother and grandmother and several wonderful wedding readings.
“A Blessing for the Journey”
I awoke at 1:30am feeling a powerful wave of nausea hit me. My body felt keyed up, buzzy and strange. I'd read about hormone surges that signal labor is soon to begin. I lay awake wondering...
At 3:30am I was up again, this time to pee (for the umpteenth time). Something seemed usual, though, and when I turned on the bathroom light to look, I saw my water had broken. It was more of a leak than a gush but I was sure it was amniotic fluid. My midwives said we'd have to wait and see, and to try and get some more sleep in the meantime...
I lay in bed wide awake for the next 3 hours, until I could reasonably get up. Nothing was happening - no contractions, no more fluid. It was my husband's first day at his new job and since there were no big developments, I told him to go work, saying I didn't want to feel like a "watched pot" and we surely had a long time to go since it was my first labor...
At 9am I went to see my midwives and based on a pH test, they couldn't be sure my waters in fact begun to leak. I was disappointed and confused - I thought once your water breaks you were supposed to start a fast and furious labor! I went home again to wait and wonder...
At 10am, after 6.5 hours of nothing, suddenly my labor began. My contractions came regular and strong. By the time my husband made it back from work at noon and we tried to go for a walk, I could only make it around the corner before it became too difficult...
My contractions were quickly getting hard to handle. By the time the first midwife arrived at 2pm, I was already 6cm dilated. I was surprised and elated to hear my progress! I remember after that our midwife went straight away to prepare and organize all the birth supplies, saying "We're just going to breathe this baby out..."
Over the next few hours my contractions grew more and more intense and painful...and then something happened. I looked down to see my belly moving, our baby twisting and turning into some new positioning. After that, everything slowed down. I wondered, would my labor would stall as it had for other women in my family?
Laboring on my back, my side, my hands and knees, on the birth ball, the birth stool, in the tub, in the shower... 6pm: uneven dilation, pain, vomiting...then, "We see hair!" 8:30pm: finally, pushing.
Everything I'd read made it seem like getting to the pushing part would be the most difficult but that once you got there, you'd feel a rush of energy and soon your baby would be born! Hours and hours and hours of pushing went by as I repeated my mantra...
5 hours of pushing later. The world shrank down to pure sensation. Exhaustion. Doubt. Our baby's heart rate was steady but her progress down the birth canal was incredibly slow. Could I do this?
2am: a transfer to the birthing center. I wanted to know, "Is there anything else you can do?" The answer: just keep going.
18 hours since the first contraction. 8 hours of pushing. The midwife's voice penetrating a fog of exhaustion and pain: "Reach down and grab your baby!"
The most amazing moment of my entire life. Welcome to the world, Bhramari Jay. We're so glad you've come.
Our daughter was born posterior (facing my belly) and acsynclitic (her head turned to the side). For many mothers this would have resulted in drugs, interventions and c-sections. Thanks to my amazing birth team - my husband and mother, River Valley Midwives and the Holyoke Birthing Center - I was able to have her just the way I wanted.
Happy 1st birthday dear daughter. You are light, you are laughter, you are brilliant spark. You are joy, you are discovery, you are unquenchable curiosity. You are looking deeply, you are shining brightly, you are pure spirit.
More about my birth:
Maternity Portraits, Mother Blessing Rituals, Birth Affirmations and Blessingway Readings.
I've gone back and forth over the last year, trying to decide whether to share these pictures. My hope in sharing them is to inspire other women to capture this magical time as well.
When I was pregnant I remember saying I became a mother the moment our daughter was conceived. I look at these pictures and see that mother held within me like a spring bud. I see the devotion, the contentment, the nurturing, the intimacy, the joy, the vast unknown.
It is the me not of my girlhood, nor the me of today, but a mysterious in-between place of ripeness and possibility.
These portraits have shown me the sacred vessel I've become, as a mother, to hold the enormity of all those moments...and go on holding them for the rest of my life.
Poetry and Musings of an Interfaith Minister on the Journey of a Lifetime.