What is Before Us by Xochitl Alvizo

It was a strange thing. I even felt a little self-conscious about it, but it’s just where I was at the time.

I arrived in Mazatlán two days after my dad died. The wake was well on its way and people were already at the funeral home, including my mom and sister. I see my dad in the coffin – it was an open casket with a glass top so you could still see him. I said hi to him like I would on any other day – “Hi papa” – waving toward him from a couple feet away as I greeted the folks already there. I felt no sadness, no grief, no need to cry.

I then went and stood by my mom’s side as she wept over the coffin, talking to him and gesturing as if caressing his face over the glass top. I put my arm over her shoulder. I stood with her in her grief. I felt sad for her – I wanted her to be ok. But me, I felt fine. People would hug me and cry as they did, expressing their condolences or their own grief. I would hug folks back, but there was no part of me that needed to cry – I just wasn’t there yet.

It took me over a week before I felt like crying – before I did cry. People said it was shock; that was why I didn’t cry. At the time, I didn’t know what it was – I just knew that I felt fine, until I didn’t. Today, ten months since my papa’s death, I don’t think it was shock, it was just the fact that he wasn’t who was before me, who I was feeling—it was my mom, grieving, and she was my focus. She was who was before me, and I tended to her.

My papa’s coffin

I didn’t feel my own loss until I was back home and back to my daily life. That’s when my grief came, when I could feel the loss of my papa in my day-to-day—that’s when his absence from my life was truly before me.

Losing my papa was a new reality for me – one I didn’t want. It’s been difficult to learn to live in this new world without (in this case, without him). He was part of my grounding; his phone calls 3 to 4 times a week were my reminder to return to my center, to not sweat the small stuff, to keep my eyes on the prize (whatever that happened to be – there was an implicit trust he had in me and the work I do). I let him hold the center for me, though I’ve only now realized that. I suspect it just happened over time, as an outgrowth of the confidence he had in me and the support he always extended. I felt strong and grounded in great part because he helped affirm that in me (externally) and now that he’s not here I’ve been in a process of learning to hold that more fully for myself (internally). And this is only one aspect of the loss that came with the death of my dad, but it’s a significant one as I am challenged to reflect more deeply on my life and how I can more intentionally live it in ways worthy of my present-future.

It makes sense that a large component of grief is the struggle to learn to live anew – to live into a new, usually unwanted, reality. I think about how much this is true for us right now because of the pandemic. How much we have had to learn to live without – small and large in scale – or just differently. There are also the realities of all the other global and political crises, a constant threat in the background/foreground. Loss, change, and its accompanying grief is ongoing.   

A proud dad moment – going out for a drink with his daughters – look at his smile.

But this is what is before us, in all the particular and different ways in which that takes shape for each of us. We are challenged to find our resources to help us keep on. Our life is many things – the particulars right before us and the larger world not always in focus. We have to tend to where we are in a given moment, to deal as best as we can with that which is requiring our attention, and also keep the larger view in sight.

I tend to default prioritize the task at hand; to deal with that which is in front of me. It makes me a very good in-the-present kind of person, but my papa’s death has caused me to deepen and expand this framework. He is gone and he has no more present, and I am so much more aware of how that will be true for me too. This is not news to me, of course. In my family, we are very good at facing the reality of death—living knowing that one does not have even the end of the day guaranteed to us. So I generally try to live in ways that do not take life for granted. I learned this from both of my parents, but especially my dad’s side. We live ready to die. No regrets – do it now while you are still living and live in a way worthy of the rest of your days. My understanding of how I can do this is deepening. It has been helpful to have had some time away to reflect – time away from teaching (I was on research/writing sabbatical this semester) and from FAR duty. I feel as if I’m emerging anew, a little more balanced and more internally grounded.  

With the encouragement and support of many, including the FAR community, I’ve taken time to feel and process the loss of my dad. When I decided to take a hiatus from the behind-the-scenes work of FAR, others graciously stepped in. The fact of FAR being a community labor of love has been true from its inception to this very day. Thank you Janet for taking the lead and Carolyn for backing her up. And thank you to all our regular contributors for keeping the blog going in all the different ways.

We each have our labors of love before us – most recently organizing against Supreme Court injustices – let us tend to that which calls our attention, keeping the long view in mind, while also tending to our own be-ing. For this is our life, even in grief.

Rage on and bright blessings.

Bio

Xochitl Alvizo, loves all things feminist, womanist, and mujerista. She often finds herself on the boundary of different social and cultural contexts, and works hard to develop her voice and to hear and encourage the voice of others. Her work is inspired by the conviction that all people are inextricably connected and what we do, down to the smallest thing, matters; it makes a difference for good or for ill. She teaches in the area of Women and Religion, and the Philosophy of Sex, Gender, and Sexuality, at California State University, Northridge. Along with Gina Messina, she is co-editor of the volume Women Religion Revolution (FSR Books, 2017). She most recently co-edited The Emerging Church, Millennials, and Religion: Volume 2 (Cascade Books, 2022) with Terry Shoemaker and Rachel C. Schneider. She lives in Los Angeles, CA where she was also born and raised.



Categories: General

9 replies

  1. Welcome back, Xochitl, and thank you for this essay on grief, grounded in your own recent experience dealing with and processing your father’s death. I like your statement–“…a large component of grief is the struggle to learn to live anew – to live into a new, usually unwanted, reality.” Have been struggling with “living anew” and searching for a different reality for a couple of years now. Am grateful to all in the FAR community who continue to ease us all through difficult changes in our lives.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. We’re so glad you are back! You have been sorely missed! Taking the time we need to reflect and cope with loss and change is so important. You are a wonderful example of not only how to do that but how to live in these uncertain times by not giving in to despair and by taking “the long view.” The courage, wisdom, and honesty that you have always shared with the FAR community is a blessing to all of us. I look forward to more words of wisdom in future posts!

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  3. This is a beautiful tribute to not only your Papa, but to your whole family, and it is deeply touching because so often we hear only of family breaks, not loving and supportive bonds. Just reading about your family was healing and inspiring. Your radiant faces in the photograph are uplifting. I send my condolences during this time of grieving your father’s transition.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Beautiful and honest! Thanks for revealing yourself in so touching a manner. And revealing your relationship with your Papa and your family, too. You’d been working hard when he passed and you’d earned a break, but wouldn’t it have been wonderful if he had not passed and you’d had a nice visit with him? But your–and his–philosophy of not knowing what’s ahead created support and love in your family. And among your friends! (And you even let your hair grow out. Wow.) Thanks as always, my friend, for all the good work you’ve been doing for FAR and bright blessings to the rest of your life.

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  5. Took me seven years to process what the death of my grandmother truly meant.

    Btw, I have been interested in the emerging church for over a decade now.

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  6. Dear Xochitl, your share of your own grieving has really touched me deeply and I don’t know how to thank you. Because after over 30 years my fathers passing I understand now why I wasn’t able to cry at his funeral, all my attention was geared to my mother’s needs ……. there is a lot more…. but I won’t get into all the details….Your contribution just opened up a different perspective of why I wasn’t able to cry than, so many people had been wondering why I couldn’t cry. Thank you so much, and I may hug you.

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  7. Xochitl,
    Welcome back to our FAR community – not that you were ever gone, just on break. Your sharing of your family’s love and your experience of your papa’s death is beautiful and touching – what a beautiful photo of hime with you and your sister.

    I lost both of my parents when I was young – Daddy when I was 26 and Mom 10 years later when I was 36. I was unable to experience my grief and loss after my mom’s death for almost 2 months. I cry during movies and even commercials and yet no tears at her funeral. I was living in Greece at the time and I remember distinctly the moment the grief and loss hit – on a bus trip to Molivos to spend Christmas with Karolina. Mom had been planning a visit to see me in Greece for the spring and seeing all that beauty which she would never see opened up the flood gates of my tears which then lasted for months. For whatever reason, sometimes our grief takes time to surface.

    I have found that though neither of my parents are with me in the physical now, they remain with me always in the timelessness of the sacred. My relationship with them both has continued to deepen and grow and some of the wounds I experienced from my dad’s inability to express his own feelings have been healed.

    It’s great to have your voice back with us again.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Nice to hear from you!
    I appreciate your reflections on negotiating between what is immediate presence and what is impending presence — the expanded “now.”
    And the existential movements of mind/body/spirit among the little griefs (all the little losses of the day) to the larger losses.
    Sending love, light and affirming the beauty of rage harnessed to high purpose.
    Isabella

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  9. Thank you for your honesty and for sharing your experience and insight with the FAR community. How wonderful that you had such a great relationship with your father! I’m glad you took time off for yourself and that others stepped in and took over the reins here. Blessings.

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