One year ago today, the worst thing in life I could ever imagine happened to me. My beloved father passed away.
My father and I lived 25,000 miles apart. We hadn't seen each other for 11 years but we made it up in phone calls. We were very close. He had been ill for 1.5 years but his condition was stabilizing, or so I thought. I thought I had enough time.
I had planned to move back there for good in early February just to be with him. I would be away from my husband, but my husband and I agreed it was the best decision given the situation. I didn’t tell my dad about the plan because I wanted to surprise him.
A couple hours into New Year, my stepmom called. Dad had been very sick for a couple days. I asked why she didn’t have him admitted to the hospital right away. She said he didn’t want to go unless I said so.The day after, he got much better but then he quickly got so much worse he was struggling to breathe.
I decided to get on the next flight home but there was no single seat available that night or the day after. I searched for 2 full days and found nothing. I searched everywhere, called everyone but there was no seat, not even a standby. Every flight was fully booked. On the 3rd day, a travel agent found me a ticket for LAX-Singapore for the day after that. I was so relieved even though I still had to figure out 3 more connecting flights to make it home to see my dad. But at least, I’d be one step closer to home than from here.
We got home from lunch and I was exhausted. I barely slept since New Year's eve for 3 nights in a row. I rested a little while IM-ing with my step brother. He just got back from the hospital when the hospital called him. The next sentence I was reading was, "Sis, please forgive me." My heart stopped. No, please no. He then said that Dad had passed away. I felt like I just got struck by lightning. Images of my dad went through my mind as I cried, yelled "No no no no no no!!!!!" and screamed uncontrollably. The pain was unbelievably excruciating. I wasn't sure who I was yelling at but I remember myself screaming "I just got the ticket!!! I just got the ticket!!!" repeatedly while crying at the same time.
I was very angry. I felt that life had played a disgustingly dirty trick on me and I got cheated. What kind of a sick joke was that? I just had the ticket in my hand less than 2 hours after searching high and low everywhere and he passed away?? He always bounced back. He wasn't supposed to die yet. I was going to see him. I had it all planned. This can't be real!! Please tell me this is not real... I begged and I retorted and I wished that it was just a cruel joke. But it wasn’t. My dad was really gone. Gone as in I could never talk to him ever again. Gone as in I could never hug him ever again. So I cried some more. I cried so much for so many hours I eventually ran out of tears. It felt like I was crying, I was sobbing, but my eyes were dry, there were no more tears left.
Then the depression hit. Now that he was gone, I didn't have anything left to look forward to in life. It felt like someone just cut me open alive and ripped my heart out while I could only watch the rest of my body shutting down. There was a giant black hole in my heart and it hurt so badly. It was the longest and the most painful 24 hours.
My husband spoke to one of the monk at Wat San Fran and took me there to pray for my dad. I was still crying a lot. To both our surprise, the monk gave a special sermon that (I felt) was specifically directed towards me. Although I missed his point, something that he said in the sermon made me stopped crying after that day for quite a while. When he saw I wasn't eating during lunch, he told me to take at least a few bites because our body needs it, not because we want to enjoy the food. If we stop caring for our body, then we can fall into depression deeper and deeper. I guessed he was right. I knew I was on my way into deep depression at that time. But during the sermon, he said that I had to be strong for my dad, so I ate a bite or two.
My dad had always been the strength that kept me going in life. So after listening to the sermon, a very little seed of hope of wanting to be strong in case my father was looking down at me was planted in my heart. It gave me a new reason to hang on to life, to help my father. Although living still sucked a lot at that time, I fought very hard to at least be stronger although I was still not ready to do anything. I didn’t go back to work. I didn’t go out unless I really really really had to. I didn’t bother putting on any make up or brushing my hair. I didn’t pick up any calls from my friends. I didn’t return any of their calls for months. I shut myself off the world. I was just tired. I didn’t want to talk about it or have to explain the whole thing again from the beginning. I didn’t want to hear anyone say “I know how you feel.”
Life felt so empty after that. All that was left was the guilt. I should’ve gone back the first time he fell ill. I should’ve called couple days earlier; maybe he could’ve been saved. I could’ve… I should’ve… And I kept playing the same thing over and over again in my head.
The monk said that you did the best you could. I wanted to believe him, but I couldn’t. I could’ve done better.
I should’ve done better. The monks and the nun said that this teaching was different. I failed to see how.
During a discussion, they told me that too much meditation would make me numb. I disagreed. I was quite dedicated to the meditation method I followed. Annoyed yet intrigued, I listened to the discussion every single time with a mental checklist in my mind; life is suffering – checked, I learned that too elsewhere; nothing is permanent – yeap, ditto; sense of belonging and the sufferings that come with it – of course. That’s why we have to detach ourselves from everything, right?; the final goal is enlightenment so you won’t have be reborn in this life again and again – obviously, but in my next life.. I want to be with my dad again, I want to be pretty and marry my husband again.
It wasn’t until after the first KPY retreat up in the mountain that I finally understood why they said what they said. I was talking to my mom about an issue that she had. While I was thinking “wow that sucks”, she went “oh well, it is what it is.” I paused. It is what it is… very accepting isn’t it? Whatever it is, just let it be… I’m still unhappy but I’m just going to tell myself that it is what it is…. Hm… Numb… Ha! That’s what they meant! I see it now!!! How in the world did I miss that??
From there I started connecting the dots; life is suffering – that I knew but did not understand. This time, I took a real good look at it. Losing my father was the most suffering I have ever felt in my entire life. If I get reborn again, most likely I will have 2 parents that I most likely will love a lot. That means… I have to feel this feeling again? Twice??
When my father died, I died that day. If you had known me before and you see how I was that day, you would’ve known that I was gone. There was no life inside of me. Living was not something that I look forward to. Now I have to feel it all over again in my next life? Huh uh. I don’t think so. Once is more than enough. I have had enough.
So how do I avoid it? I tried meditation, but obviously, that didn’t work for me. Maybe this one will…
I remembered one of the requirements my previous teacher had for anyone who wanted to learn from him, give the teaching a fair trial in its purity. Don’t mix and match. So I drop whatever teaching I was following and I gave this one its fair trial. I did not just believe everything they say in blind faith (nor did they ask me to do so). I listen to the teaching and I contemplate a lot. If they make sense, I apply it in my daily life. If they don’t make sense to me, I ask questions so I can understand better.
I stopped accepting and I started questioning. Why am I unhappy? Why did I get into argument with my co-worker? Why I can’t get along with certain people? What went wrong? What is the cause? How do I fix it? After I fix it, now what?
This teaching lets me work on my issues until I get to the very bottom of it and get rid of it. I don’t just brush it off by trying to accept it without knowing what it is that really bothers me. My father died, how should I accept that? That everyone dies? Sure, but why him, why now? Still you have to accept it? And how exactly do I do that? Everyone told me the result, how I should be this and that but no one could give me an answer on how to get there. Through this teaching, I was able to figure out why losing my father hurt me so much. Granted, it took me months and a lot of effort to do so. However, because I found the cause, I could fix the wrong perception that I had and I didn’t even have to make myself accept the fact that he passed away. It happened naturally.
Today, one year after my father’s death, I have become a much better person that I thought I could ever be. His death has become the biggest blessing in disguise I’ve experienced. I am not enlightened yet but I am a much happier person. I still have plenty of problems everyday but I learned that I can solve them. Life is not that bad after all. But does it mean I want to go through all this again? I hope not. Life is indeed full of suffering but those sufferings are my tools to be better.
For all the knowledge that I have gained, I thank the monks and nuns at Wat San Fran. Thank you for not giving up on me. I most likely would not be who I am today without you. I can’t find words strong enough to express my gratitude.
Thanks to all the members of Wat San Fran. Your supports have allowed me a chance to learn this teaching.
Thanks to my good husband, without whom I may not be at the temple most Saturdays to learn Dhamma. And lastly, thank you Dad for getting my foot in the door of Wat San Fran, literally.