It’s been over 18 years since my father fatally overdosed and my grief has not gone away. I don’t think it ever will. But it has changed.
I like to compare grief to waves in the ocean. And during the 5 or 6 years of my late teens and early adulthood, when my struggles were the most extreme, the waves of grief were as massive as mountains. They were overwhelming, overpowering and suffocating. They hit hard, one after the other, with no room or time in between them to breathe. I was drowning in something I couldn’t see out of or understand.
But today the waves have calmed. They’re not nearly as big and they don’t hit one after the other, they come every so often. And I can usually see them coming from miles away. They come around Christmas, because my dad’s birthday was December 22. And they come around my birthday because it’s always a week before father’s day. But I can see that coming and I can prepare.
I still think about him every day. But lately it hasn’t been in a sad way. Like the time a few months ago when I bumped into two ex-girlfriends on the same day and thought, he’s probably laughing at me right now…. In fact, he probably set it up.
I also don’t find myself grieving over the past anymore. Instead, I’m grieving the future. The same sadness I used to feel thinking about the few blurry memories I have of him I now feel thinking about all the stuff he’s going to miss out on. Every career milestone, he won’t be there. If I ever get married, he won’t be there. If I ever have kids, they won’t meet their grandfather. And that makes me sad. Even though I never got to know him, I still miss my dad.
Now I carry on the best I can with the tools I’ve acquired. I could write for days about all the things I’ve done to help myself heal. But I think the easiest way to describe my healing journey is to tell you a story.
Last year I participated in a sweat lodge ceremony for the first time. Then I participated in 5 more. It’s not a Wet’suwet’en practice, but I’ve always been fascinated by it. The idea of returning to the womb of Mother Earth in sweat and surrender is a humbling and empowering one. During the first ceremony I wrote a letter to my father and burned it. Then I offered him, the Creator and my ancestors tobacco and prayed the message would make it to him (at the very least I hope he rolled himself a cigarette).
Inside the sweat lodge, nestled under willow trees and surrounded by a group of people also seeking healing, we entered another realm. As the drums were drummed, songs sung and steam sizzling through my bare chest—I saw him. I saw him more vividly than any of my blurry memories could muster. I saw him with my grandmother. They were waving. They were smiling. They were happy.
The ceremonies were led by a traditional Cree Pipe Carrier—a medicine man. And on the day of the fifth ceremony this medicine man decided he was going to give me a ceremonial name. When I asked what this name was going to be, he said he had to wait for a sign to come.
The sun was shining that day, without a cloud in the sky. Then just before we were about to enter the lodge, two eagles came flying above us. They circled us for a few minutes, flying lower and lower, lower than eagles usually fly. Then they flew away.
After the ceremony, the medicine man decided to call me Two Eagles Flying.
So where am I on this crazy, funny, depressing, chaotic, thrilling journey I call my life? I’m just riding the waves, my hands reaching for the horizon with two eagles flying ahead of me. My father and grandmother guiding me forward.
Trevor Jang is a reporter for Roundhouse Radio in Vancouver.