by Helen Cortes
When there is a void in one’s life, we always speak of an emptiness, a missing link, a permanent abyss. My father passed away four months ago and his death did not come like a thief in the night. I have been in a lot of sesshins, and I remember in April of ’94 I was already preparing for his death. A friend told me that grieving takes approximately three years so I told myself at least it’s been as though I was halfway through the grieving period already. When word came that my father passed away, it hit me like a bombshell. I thought I was ready, but I clung on to him, never releasing him from this phenomenal world. The last words he scribbled were “the door is open,” and, having been raised a Catholic, I immediately associated the opening to the gates of heaven.
As in 1993, I decided to spend this New Year celebration at the Osage Monastery in Oklahoma. This time I allowed myself to just sit for longer periods, and just be fully present in all the things I was doing, i.e., to walk the trails, to wash the dishes, to listen to the birds, to watch the moon, to listen to the wind, to sing with the nuns, to listen to the scriptures, to eat and share the fireplace with the community for New Year’s eve. Under the guidance of Sr. Pascaline, I was able to make a closure on my father’s departure from this world. Pascaline said that it has been the practice of the Maryknoll sisters to set a closure after they have left a mission, and this they do by listing down all the memories of the place and later offering it by burning the paper from a candle. This I did and only then had I realized that my father had given me so many gifts in this world like humility, patience, love, compassion and most of all, life! In turn, I offered them back to my father.
I was consumed with the feeling of release and liberation. No more did I feel that attachment to him-yet I’ve never felt as close to him as before. Sr. Pascaline, with her wisdom and compassion, gave me a bookmark by Meister Eckhart which read, “The fruit of letting go is birth!” Little by little, I am able to practice nonattachment to the mundane things in this world. I am not trying to be an ascetic, but, come to think of it, there is so much impermanence in this world that I have started to relinquish a little of it. It is only in surrendering that we gain.