A Year of Grief, Solitary Walks, and, Finally, Hope.

How the pandemic brought me to my knees, then helped me stand again.

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

My most striking pre-pandemic memory is not toasting glasses of Prosecco with friends over a good meal. It’s not dancing at an English Beat concert, nor is it swimming in the Indian Ocean while on a surf tour of Sumatra.

Mine is of cancelling my dad’s funeral. He died on February 16, 2020.

His swan song was supposed to be grand.

Even as he plunged into his dementia, he’d faithfully write letters to me. Unsure of how to memorialize him after he died, I found the following email. He often spoke of his own death:

I would like to be buried at the cemetery near sorrento valley (Non-Jewish section of Jewish cemetery), facing morning sun. I would like to have memorial service. “IT IS NOT A CELEBRATION OF LIFE SERVICE BUT, SAD MEMORIAL SERVICE OF A GOOD MAN.” please invite as many as possible, other Koreans via friend Chu Dong Il, many of the soccer players from the “Y” (tell Leslie to pass the info. to the girls & boys at “The Y”.) Let the soccer community (via Blent) and Andy know. NO ASHES PLEASE — UNLESS I DIE AFTER MOO DIES.

If I die after Moo, then I would like to be cremated and illegally spread over the river mouth when it is dark so not to get attention with immediate family only present in a casual cloth on not to draw attentions. The same place Paula’s ash has been spread so we can be together forever.

I laughed to myself reading my dad’s broken English — he was a college graduate, a commercial airline pilot, and a stock market wizard, but he never felt the need to perfect his English to appease other Americans.

My mom (“Moo”) had died two months before my dad. So according to Dad’s letter, I should have sent his body to the crematorium. But my mom, even before she became ill, often spoke of her desire to have her ashes spread over the ocean. And my dad would cringe.

“Burning dead body is morbid American thing,” he used to say. “I don’t want that.”

I decided to bury him, then give him the memorial service he’d asked for. Funeral planning for someone you are close to can only be carried out, in my opinion, if you deaden whatever emotions attempt to surface.

I robotically reserved a venue and invited as many people as I could find in his address book. The date was set for March 1, 2020.

In mid-February of last year, I didn’t think much of the Coronavirus. I recalled SARS in 2003, the Zika epidemic in 2015. Yes, they were deadly viruses, but they didn’t shut down the world.

As the Coronavirus forced us into isolation and fear, I also had to cancel my dad’s funeral.

And I had a year to grieve him without the connections that were my usual lifelines. No hugs, no gatherings. Hell, no dancing at English Beat concerts.

It was undoubtedly the worst year of my life. But it forced me to dig deep within myself to survive my grief. Instead of soccer games or dinner with my friends every weekend, I’d go on lone walks.

I saw my dad in dolphins jumping out of the sea. The dolphins were prolific during lockdown, most likely because no boats, surfers, or noises were trespassing on their home.

I saw my mom in the sunset; she loved sunsets.

I saw both of my parents in the stars that shone more vividly because there was less light pollution.

My dad may be in the ground, my mom’s ashes in the sea. But they are together. Dad may not have gotten his wish of “a sad memorial service of a great man.”

But I feel their spirits everywhere.

I visited my dad’s grave last week; it’d been over six weeks since I’d last placed fresh flowers on the site. As I arranged the purple tulips, I heard my dad’s voice: “Go on and live your life, Kellah.”

And I am doing just that. I still walk alone. I still miss my parents. But memorializing lost love is not always done traditionally. I’ve learned this the hard way.

During this sorrow and fear-filed year, I’ve found meaning in a world I’d previously been moving through too quickly. I think now is the time to go on and live my life.

Writer. Advocate. Truth seeker. Perpetually curious over-analyzer.

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