I turned the engine off after parking in my dad’s driveway and stared at the half-opened front door.
This was one of my many daily stops to clean up after him and make sure he had everything he needed. This was also a daily ritual of bracing myself emotionally for whatever scene awaited me behind that door.
He had just arrived home in an ambulance a few days earlier after angrily signing himself out of yet another hospital. After many years of alcohol abuse his esophagus had been eaten away by cancer, but he refused any treatment. He had been rotting away for weeks right before my eyes. The man who I despised for most of my waking life was now dependent almost solely on my care.
As soon as I stepped out of the car, I could hear the television blaring. He had lost most of his hearing in his 20s while being treated for a brain tumor, and now at 41 he was practically deaf.
The scene I walked into was heartbreaking. There was my dad, for years such a dominant and aggressive figure, now a skeleton in white briefs. His little body nearly disappeared into the recliner that sat directly in front of the TV.
His eyes were wide and darting around as he watched an old Western gun fight—the skin from the open wound left by the emergency trach he ripped out flapped back-and-forth as he struggled to breathe. There was a tube protruding from his stomach, resting on his thigh, leaking Ensure onto the chair.
My stomach churned at the thought of breaking the news to him that there would be a nurse coming by in the next few days because all of this care was far beyond my capabilities. He would not be happy about this, and even without words he had been able to express his feelings quite clearly.
I stood beside him for a while watching his chest struggle to expand and contract, each attempt matching the gurgling sounds coming from the hole in his throat. He had no idea I was standing there.
I finally put my hand on his shoulder. His head slowly turned from the TV and his eyes locked with mine in a way I had never experienced in my life—my body shook. I was taken off-guard. It was as if I was looking into a stranger’s eyes.
They were so expressive, deep, and captivating—and clearly trying to send a message. He lifted his hand slowly to take mine.
I held on to it with both of my own hands as if I were meeting my dad for the very first time. I leaned in close to his face as if maybe he were going to speak. We both had tears trailing down our faces.
I’m not sure how long I stood there staring into his eyes. I tried so hard to decipher his message—it felt telepathic. There seemed to be desperation, sadness, apology, maybe some exhaustion. These eyes expressed something beyond emotion.
Or was this just me projecting into his eyes what I wanted him to say? Was this just me trying to reach closure? Was I simply dramatizing this? Or was he asking me to put him out of his misery? That look in his eyes will forever be vividly etched into my memory.
I instinctively knew there was no need to mention the nurse or clean up. He would die that night. The next morning my grandma and uncle came to check on him and found him dead in his bed; he had asphyxiated in his sleep.
I’ve often heard that wisdom is found at the intersection of knowledge and experience. I tend to agree with this statement and can attest that my direct life experience has illuminated my understanding of many things, including the textual meaning of certain words.
Specifically, I spent years misusing and interchanging sympathy, empathy, and compassion. The death of my father and the events that followed reformed my understanding of these words and birthed invaluable wisdom.
Throughout the years since the day my father died, I eventually stopped trying to interpret the mysterious message from his eyes. What I decided I felt that day was sympathy–the feeling of sorrow for another’s misfortune.
I had never felt sympathy for him before, and it was enough to break down the walls of anger I had allowed to build up over my lifetime. Sympathy opened a pathway to forgive him for everything that had transpired in my childhood and beyond. It was relieving to me that I could feel pity for a man I had hated, and there was a sense of freedom in forgiveness. In my mind, I had moved on and had the closure I needed.
As my kids grew older and my parental skills were tested, I began to see glimpses of my dad showing up in my screaming tantrums, knee-jerk physical reactions, stinging sarcasm, and manipulation.
Once I threw the TV remote and broke it against the wall, which triggered memories of never having a working remote in our house growing up because our dad broke them all in anger. As I went to my kids’ rooms to hold them and apologize after I had overreacted, flashes of my dad doing the same thing to me flooded my mind.
That’s when I experienced a newfound feeling toward my dad—empathy. I was able to see from his perspective how he may have felt, and how easy it is to make bad decisions and lose emotional control.
This was before I used any mind-altering substances, so as I thought about my actions I imagined how alcohol probably aided in this temporary mental hijacking. This line of reasoning helped me embody and understand where he might have been coming from.
Empathy brought a new level of forgiveness for me.
And I believed that was my ultimate closure. Until last year when I had a reading from an intuitive medium.
The medium told me that my father was “stuck” in an unknown realm—which I have come to believe is the spiritual middle world—where essentially “ghosts” exist. According to this medium, he was suspended there because of the acts he committed while alive.
I said to her that I had already forgiven him and come to peace with the past, so his entrapment must be linked to acts he committed against others. She advised that I try to contact him—maybe sit down and have dinner with him in order to find what deeper meanings lie there.
He was a soul, she said, that held a generation of burden.
Every other part of her reading was precisely correct and I decided to follow her advice. I had dinner with my dad.
I remembered how much he loved ribs, so for the first time in my life I bought two racks of baby backs and grilled them. I sat down at the table with the ribs and I began carrying on a conversation with him, who I imagined in the empty chair across from me.
I went through the litany of reasons why I had forgiven him, letting him know that I was in recovery from my meth addiction, that the family was thriving. I forgave him again. I left the conversation asking how I could help him and I sat in silence for a long time waiting for some sort of sign.
What came next will probably seem hard to believe.
After the dinner, I went to bed and was quickly swept into an altered state of consciousness where I had a vision. I was standing on the banks of a river made of crystal clear water. I received a message that this river was all the thoughts that had ever been thought and would ever be thought—if I wanted answers, I would have to dive in.
So I did. I swam underneath the water, the bottom of the river made of the most beautiful and glittery crystals I had ever seen. I noticed a door among the crystals, which I opened to reveal a warm, dry room. Inside the room was a fire burning in a small fireplace and an iron kettle suspended above it, the contents bubbling.
I approached the fire and noticed that instead of logs, the flames were coming from a pile of what I perceived to be human bones. The kettle above the fire was hot, thick blood—in research after the vision I found out that there is an ancient Shamanic tradition of releasing souls from a purgatory state by exhuming their bones and burning them.
Then an image appeared above the mantle of the fireplace and it was the image of my father’s eyes from the last time I had seen him—the familiar and mysterious expression that penetrated my soul.
This time, though, I could hear words: You didn’t know my soul. I didn’t know the damage I caused. You didn’t know my soul. I didn’t know. That wasn’t me. Over and over.
The eeriness of the words and the sight of those eyes gave me chills down my spine and I rose up from my bed screaming and sobbing. As I fell to the floor crying uncontrollably, I had some profound realizations.
Dad was in active addiction all of my life. I used to wonder how and why a man would ever treat his kids and family the way he treated us and now I know.
I had committed the same egregious acts to my own kids and family while in active meth addiction. My loved ones were just as mistreated as I ever was, even more. And just like that version of me didn’t reflect my soul, neither did the version of my dad that I knew reflect his soul.
I had to go through meth addiction to finally feel the emotion I needed for complete and total reconciliation with my dad—compassion. To feel compassion, I had to suffer alongside him in the deepest way. And I understood in that moment this healing was meant not only for me and my dad, but for the generations of men before and after us.
My face was planted in a pool of tears as I continued to scream from joy, sadness, resolution, epiphany, victory, and purging. In this moment, I understood that the final look on his face was the raw expression of soul essence transitioning out of a tired, sick body. In this instance, those eyes were truly windows to his soul.
I then had a vision of me standing in a vast darkness holding a torch. Suddenly my dad was there, but this time he was smiling. I handed him the torch.
He turned and passed the torch to his dad, after which he vanished. Then my grandfather passed the torch to his dad, disappeared, and I watched the torch being passed down an infinite line of figures.
I knew from this vision that one of the reasons I experienced addiction in this lifetime was to break the generational curse of my ancestors and pave a new path of health for my own son and his descendants.
I laid face-down on the floor all night. The whole experience was overwhelming and draining, to say the least. I felt the weight of hundreds of years lifted from me. I could feel the healing in my cells and a newfound confidence that my life had meaning, purpose, that my experience as a drug addict was not in vain.
Freeing my dad and healing across time and space wasn’t the only benefit I found from that dark time. I now remain open to understanding the reason for my reality and always look for the opportunity. I find that this practice eliminates regret, which is an emotion that stifles, hinders, and causes stalemates in my development.
The belief I now consent to is that nothing that happens in my life is random or coincidental, but part of an appointed journey. I choose to stand firm within the intersection between knowledge and experience because therein lies the wisdom to move forward with intention.