Losing My Religion

“Dad’s not there,” my sister responded adamantly, when I suggested we go back to the cemetery the night of his funeral.

I don’t know how, or if she’d found such clarity about it. I was four years older with five years of therapy under my belt, and I couldn’t say much of anything with clarity. Except that my father was dead.

So, where was he?

Physically, I knew he was in the casket. I had insisted on a private viewing despite the horrific accident that took him so quickly. I knew I had to see for myself—for future reference, when dreams would have me believe he was alive and well and living in Kansas.

Spiritually was a whole other matter. Where was he?

At the time of his death, I still referred to myself as “Catholic.” Loosely. The answer to “where?” was just as loose—heaven? cosmic dust? ghost?

During his eulogy, I quoted Emerson: “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” I knew my dad was in me as sure as I knew he was in the casket—I was his daughter, had his sense of humor, his work ethic, his nose.

That night, at the cemetery, I sat alone at the gravesite. The heavenly scent of funeral flowers hung in the air, and a glorious sunset cast wide rays of golden light across the sky. At that moment, Dad was there. With me. Saying goodbye.

It would be 15 years before I again found that gravesite connection with my father. Whether by myself in attempted prayer, or with others in rote memorial, my subsequent visits left me feeling detached and empty.

Where was he?

I had not been to my father’s grave in many years. So, as I stood there in June, it occurred to me that much had changed. The learned exercise of genuflection and prayer seemed foreign, associated with religious designations I’d let go of long ago. My heart—my spirit—was looser now, and with that freedom came connection.

This time, instead of offering up some peripheral prayer, or filling the void with rambling, I looked for the quiet. I sat at his grave, put both palms flat out on the grass, and closed my eyes.

I felt the breeze blow through my hair. I smelled the Pennsylvania dirt, rich with minerals. I sensed the dampness of the ground beneath me. In the distance…a raven called out from a nearby tree, penetrating the thin veil of silence.

As is my effort of late, I brought my attention back—to the breeze, the dirt, the dampness. The raven. Calling, calling. Until I opened my eyes and took a deep breath.

When I stood up, I realized the raven had quieted as soon as my eyes opened, and I knew this was no coincidence.

It was not the first time my father has appeared in this form for me. He has done so many times. An eagle, soaring overhead. A hawk, silently watching from its branch.

“I sense your father,” an intuitive told me recently. “He’s off in the distance a bit, but he wants you to know he’s here for you.”

“He says he loves you. He’s proud of you,” she says, pausing perplexed.

“But you knew that? Maybe that’s why he’s just sort of hovering. He knows you know that.”

And I do. Every day.

When I think back to the day of my Dad’s funeral, I often refer to it as both the worst day and the best day of my life. It was the worst, for obvious reasons. It was the best because it was the first day I ever felt connected to something greater and more wonderful.

I have ever since, I think. But I’m just now learning how to fly with it.

• • •

Soaring

Yesterday, as I walked in the woods and wrote these words in my head, my Dad was with me. I heard his voice as clear as day, and saw this magnificent bird soaring above me, dancing along the treetops.

4 Responses

  1. Tara (Buckley) Googins

    i agree with you all
    birds, trees, water, stone – the universe is alive
    whether or not we understand it, we should appreciate it while we’re able to do so
    thank you, jen, for sharing such a beautiful testimonial to your father and to the spirit in all of us

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