How My Father’s Death is Helping me Make Friends With Time

Ratna Ling Retreat Center at Dusk compressed

Ratna Ling Retreat Center at dusk

Co-leading a retreat with Arnaud Maitland on ‘Timing Mind’ for Training the Mind for Leadership program participants recently, I deepened my understanding of my own relationship to time.

At the beautiful Ratna Ling Retreat Center, we studied the natural cycles of time, seeing that everything has a beginning, middle and end.  We discovered where we were in different parts of  these cycles within business and our personal lives.

The biggest over-arching cycle is life itself.  We are born and we die.  There is a beginning, middle and end.

There are many cycles in between,  in personal life, in business life, in the economy and in nature that surrounds us.

Ratna Ling super colors compressed

Ratna Ling with changing colors

Being keenly aware of the cycles closest to us and knowing the state of mind required for success in each phase is critical to acting with wisdom in the world.
Poor or messy endings, make good beginnings exceedingly hard. This is where I have been stuck.

One cycle I never completed was the death of my father.  He died 33 years ago. This is a long time to be stymied by an unfinished cycle.

Traveling to Ratna Ling, I was in the Philadelphia airport at 6 am and saw my father’s name all over a wall – “Aldo something or other” business is coming to the Philly airport. Just seeing his name, Aldo, stopped me in my tracks.  Suddenly I could feel his presence and how much I miss him – Aldo Beckman, my Dad.

I wanted to collapse right there on the floor and cry.  But I did not, I pushed myself to get on the plane, to keep going. Still – it was a strong sign that, something was left behind, something unfinished was not going away.

During the retreat, more than one person asked “How do you clean up endings that did not go well and still linger in one’s business and personal life?

The answers that came from the mind trainings on time were very helpful.

First: know that you can do this by yourself. It is not necessary to involve others who were in the situation especially if it happened in the distant past. There are two steps.

Step 1) Ask yourself: “What did not go well?”

A poor ending is often a sign there was something happening that did not go well, where there was low awareness, and you have not acknowledged it clearly, even to yourself.  Whether you acknowledge it or not it stays with you.

Ask yourself honestly, what could you have done better or differently to improve the situation?

It could be others could have done things differently, but perhaps didn’t know better. (This is NOT about blame, but about clear acknowledgment, learning and healing.)

It may help to write down what did not go well.

Step 2) Ask yourself: “What did you do well together?”

Dad compressed

The key here is honesty and genuine appreciation. Again, write it down.

So I ask, what did not go well?

For me, looking back, I was not there when my father died.  Even typing this acknowledgement makes me cry.   He insisted I go off to college on September 1st.  I would come home for my birthday September 25th and I would see him then.  He was dying of cancer and ten days later, he died. I was 17 years old.

I left because he wanted me to go.  I did not know anything else to do.

My four younger siblings were at his bedside and endured the agony of watching his body disintegrate during those ten days and had more time to say good-bye.

Even though my parents made a very conscious decision that he would die at home, and clearly that was happening, oddly, we didn’t talk about the fact we were ending our relationship with him.  Death, what it really meant, was not discussed.  I fell easily into this pattern.

Looking back, I see I was ‘behind time’ in the whole experience, meaning I did not acknowledge what was happening in the present moment. It was too painful.

It turns out not acknowledging reality is even more painful than facing a really painful present moment.  And – it has long term consequences.   Part of me was left in that place 33 years ago – this has kept me from being ‘whole’ in the present time.  It is hard to say everything that it has affected.  I still don’t fully understand it, but I know it is true.

Since his death, I have often thought, “The whole thing was hell.”  My way of dealing with it was not to deal with it.  I just tried to block it out of my mind. So much so, I don’t have a single picture of him on display in my house.

Again, “What did not go well or what could have been better?

I never had a conversation with my father acknowledging he was dying.  The closest we came was when he first told me his cancer was back and he had 3 months to live. I locked myself in the bathroom for a half an hour and just bawled. That was it, the beginning of hell.  What we failed to acknowledge was that our relationship, as we knew it, was ending.  

“Ending is in the seed of every beginning.” – Arnaud Maitland

2) What did we do together well?

We swam together, we ate together, we played together, he helped me with homework, we read together, we laughed together. I just loved to be with him.  My father helped me feel comfortable being me. He accepted me for who I was. He had a quick temper, but he was always genuine and you always knew where you stood with him. I just loved being in his presence when he was relaxed.

Looking back, I can see how much this shaped me as a person. Something in the core of who I am is directly connected to my experience of him as a person. Many of my best qualities come from being with him.

So when he died, and I wasn’t able to say good bye, I got separated from something so fundamental to my soul.  There was no clean clear ending of our relationship that would have allowed me to bring the best of our relationship forward with me in time.

This week someone was selling a picture of my Dad on e-bay. He was a renowned journalist in his day and his picture was being sold by a site that collects historical photos.  I purchased it. I think I am ready to hang a picture of him in my house.

ziti compressed

Ziti – woman’s best friend

Our dog Ziti is aging quickly now. I don’t know when he is going to die. Surely he cannot last another year.

Last night he slept in our bed and nuzzled his head up to my chin. So I get a chance to practice a better ending with Ziti.

Sharing something this personal is done in the hope that you too can have better endings – both old ones, current ones and future ones. How you do end a cycle well?

It seems to include 1) acknowledging what is really happening – an ending is happening, 2) genuinely appreciating the opportunity, learning from mistakes, and 3) and experiencing a clean ending, seeing what needs to be done to make this complete.

Realize endings are normal and natural – as endings are in the seed of every beginning.

Every little cycle. We can do this. We can ‘come into time’ and have much better beginnings and much healthier happier lives and businesses.

P.S. It has been twelve hours since I wrote this and a very familiar deep sadness is present in my mind, but also a very rich joy from remembering the time I spent with my father. I can actually choose the joy.   Although the sadness is close by, it is not present when I am in the joy. This feels like a little more freedom.

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Tell me about your good endings. What have they been in the past? What good endings are you ready to create now?

 

Comments

  1. Hey Teri,

    This is a profound post. I want to process and “season” this, as we Quakers would say.

    Both my parents are alive and I am in relationship to them both. My father is aging gracefully and consciously, my mother is not. They are divorced, I am an only child; no relatives live on this continent.

    Thank you for sharing your story…it allows me to come forward with the joys and sorrows I have with my parents as we journey on the road of mortality and aging.

    More later…

  2. Dear Monique-
    Thanks so much for your post. Yes, please “season” it.

    Wishing you every happiness and conscious moment with both your parents and with your life. Much love to you.

  3. Wow Teri. Thanks for that wonderful, heartfelt post. Endings are more difficult when we aren’t present to them, but it seems so much “easier” to distance ourselves from the profound sadness than to be present. I have been trying to sit with the reality that we are losing Zoe, and it is hard. She is still with us; we put off her euthanasia because she started walking again on Sunday. But we know it is going to be sometime soon. I’m glad I can be present with her and with the sadness. Glad you got to buy the picture of your dad. I look forward to seeing it on your wall.

  4. Thanks for reading and posting Judie. We we learn from you as you go through the process with Zoe. Thank you for sharing. Can’t wait to show you the picture of my Dad when it goes up.

  5. Let me start by saying I love you Teri
    I was at father’s side the night he died, we lined up and said good-bye. He could not speak and I remember saying ‘I love you daddy’ and he squeezed my hand, at least that is how I remember it happening. We each experienced that moment in our own way, I am sorry that you were not there to help me deal with it and for yourself. I vaguely remember the day that you were sent to collage and I do remember that you did not want to go. What a hard time that was for each of us. I was so young and it was an unspoken thing that happened, before and after his death we as a family never really sat down and talked about it. To this day we have never all gotten together and spoken about father’s death and what it has meant to each of us.
    ‘What did we do well together’ in my book does not amount to much, sadly I did not get to know our father as my older siblings did. At 8 how well does anyone know their parents? How I would give up those ten days I had with him to know him as you had. You may have missed the ending of his earthly life but you got to know him as an adult and that is something that really none of your other siblings were able to do. In my eyes you were the lucky one, not because you didn’t get to see him quickly weaken and die but because you knew him far better than I ever will.
    There were no goodbyes, even the night he died there were no goodbyes. I think that is why his death had such a profound impact on all of us, and it should be a lesson to all of us. Death is beautiful and should be cherished and filled with love and understanding yet death is often filled with fear and misunderstanding. Mother was scared and there was no communication, no explanation about what was happening. It was a sad time in all of our lives but it helped to make each of us who we are today and I am proud of the family that I belong too. I am proud of you as is father:)
    I love you Teri

  6. Hi Eugene – Thanks so much for taking the time to write. I think it is time we have that conversation as a family. I love you too – always!

    • Fabienne Worth says:

      Hi Teri this is a very moving post. For some reason I was very aware of my mother dying of cancer when I was 33 years old. I flew over the Atlantic with one toddler, leaving the baby behind with his dad, to take care of Maman for 6 weeks (my 6 siblings did it the rest of the time). When Maman died I gave her a compliment for raising 7 children and she answered she hadn’t worked as hard with 7 and I did with 2. My mother had never acknowledged not having done something right, or less well than somebody else, and this acknowledgement healed all my resentments on the spot, and flooded my heart with enduring love and compassion for her. Her death was marvellous to me, and her funeral too, until I returned to the US and nobody, not even my then husband, wanted to talk about her death. That gave me deep pain, and made me resentful all over again, but at least I had done what >I had to do with the key player, my mother.

  7. Dear Fabienne,
    Thanks so very much for sharing your story. The story of your mother’s death is beautiful and sounds very healing. Of course, when we ‘cut’ something out – like not being able to acknowledge what is happening with close ones, there is pain. It seems our lives and businesses are a constant practice in becoming whole again, in healing what has been cut. Thank you again for sharing.

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