It was December 13th and I was a senior in college. The week before fall semester finals, I had just finished the ending shift at the Subway sandwich restaurant where I worked.
It was winter in Wisconsin. And because I was without car, even in the winter, I rode my bike to and from work. That evening was no different.
Shortly after 9 pm, I hopped on my bike and began my frigid ride home. On the way, my cell phone rang. While riding, I pulled it out of my pocket and looked at the number. It was an unknown call. I didn’t know who it was, but it felt important. I slowed down and pulled over to the side of the bike lane and onto the sidewalk, and I answered.
It was the woman who my dad had been living with for the last few months. They lived several states away and my dad met her online after he and my mother separated after over 28 years of marriage.
My dad’s girlfriend was in a complete panic. She slowed down and began to recount a story that would change my life forever.
That day, she came home from work to find my father, lying on the ground in front of their refrigerator. He was alert, but unable to talk or stand. She tried to get him to go to the hospital, but he resisted - he refused to go, even with his limited physical resources. Eventually, she got him to go to the hospital. This is where she was as we spoke.
She then explained, that things quickly went downhill after they arrived. She said that the reason for her call, at this moment, was to ask me, the 20 year old daughter of her boyfriend, if I wanted doctors to attempt resuscitate my father.
“Do you know,” she asked, “if your father would have wanted to be resuscitated if he was ever unconscious?”
Because that’s what was happening right at that moment.
My father was nearly dead and I was being asked about life saving measures while I stood on the side of the road at 9pm in the dark, cold Wisconsin air.
I can’t remember the exact sequence of events after that moment - the next few hours were a daze. I called family and we came to a consensus to not resuscitate. I let my dad’s girlfriend know. I begged her to put the phone to his ear so that I could say goodbye, but she was not allowed in the room. No one was, except the doctors.
The night before, he called me and when I saw his name on the caller ID, I silenced the phone and walked away from it. I didn’t know it at the time, but that would have been the last time I was able to speak to my dad alive.
I did this because my dad struggled with severe alcoholism, a downward spiral that started 10 years earlier and was culminating in the events of that night.
His alcoholism was the reason my parents separated, it was the reason I worked 2 jobs while in college full time, and it was the reason my dad was a stranger whose calls I now screened.
For years, I had prepared myself mentally for this moment. After all interventions and attempts at intervention failed, I knew, on some level, that at some point he would die from this illness.
I just didn’t know when.
That night, 6 hours after I learned of my dad’s struggle to stay alive, conscious, and breathing, I received a phone call from the same woman I’d never met, to let me know that my dad was dead.
It was 4 am on December 14th.
I was 20 years old, alone at college, and I had just learned that my once biggest role model was dead.
I completely crumbled.
Everything as I knew it changed after that night.
I never got to say goodbye. All hope that I had that he would suddenly have a come to Jesus moment and recover from alcoholism was now completely gone. It was over. To say I was crushed, would be too simple of an emotion to describe what I was feeling and thinking.
Before he got sick, my dad and I were basically inseparable. I was his favorite daughter, and I looked up to him like he was incapable of failure - as if he were a God.
He was my biggest supporter and my role model. I thought he was a could-do-everything genius. As a lawyer and an engineer with an Ivy League education, he spent weekends and evenings teaching me chemistry, physics, and calculus, helping to fill in the spaces where my teachers had left gaps in my understanding.
He inspired me to be a scientist and he believed that I could do it. We visited colleges together and he helped me apply to all of them.
All of my confidence in myself, my intelligence, and my abilities came from my father. My self-worth rested on his opinion of me. I looked to my dad for support and approval in all things.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I had no sense of self or sense of confidence outside of the idea of me that my dad had built. I attached every single inch of my self-confidence and self-worth to what my dad said I was capable or worthy of.
When his alcoholism escalated during college, I started to worry.
Who would answer my chemistry and genetics questions?
Who would help me with physics?
How would I come up with good ideas for my projects?
Did I know anything at all? Or was I actually an unintelligent idiot?
How would I support myself?
How would I make it through life without my dad?
As the person who I knew my dad to be slowly disappeared and eroded with the alcoholism, so did the aspects of myself that gave me confidence and feelings of self worth.
As he died, I began to die too.
And then I was gone. The night he died, the last shreds of my feelings of security vanished.
I didn’t know who I was without my father.
I lost the biggest piece of my identity when I lost him.
It would take me years to recover from the death of my father. Therapists, medications, techniques, and many deviations along my path later brought me to a place of healing from his death.
I had to work to regain and rebuild the pieces of my identity.
What I didn’t know then, is that when my dad died, I experienced a soul loss event, as it is called in the shamanic tradition that I now practice.
A piece of my soul broke away from the greater part of who I am and left. I was lost for many years, as even in his death, I continued to follow the path that I believed would have made my dad proud. Disillusioned, I didn’t know what else to do. I gained my confidence and my direction in knowing that following the path of scientist is what my dad would have approved of me doing.
I continued to look to this dead person for my own self-confidence and worth, rather than looking within.
Because within, it didn’t exist.
Without knowing it, I started the process of soul retrieval. I began a journey of finding that part of myself and finding what I needed to feel whole again.
As I did this, I slowly walked away from my mission of seeking my dad’s outside approval to gain confidence, and started a practice of drawing on my self-confidence and self-worth again, from within.
Soul loss can occur to anyone at anytime that they experience an event or a series of events that are traumatic, painful, heartbreaking, or otherwise cause you to feel like you’ve lost a piece of yourself.
Our soul makes up all the intangible bits and pieces of who we are here on Earth - everything about ourselves that cannot be touched, quantified, or measured exists as a part of our soul. We are a mosaic of these parts, and when something bad happens, the little mosaic tiles that make up who we are can fall away, in chunks or in bits or in large, colossal pieces.
We all lose parts of ourselves.
But we can also get them back.
In shamanism the process of “getting back” lost soul pieces is called Soul Retrieval & Integration. It’s the mechanism through which we can spiritually, emotionally, and energetically identify and bring back all the pieces of ourselves that have been lost over time.
My soul loss experience has profoundly changed the course of my life, and I would not be who I am today if I had not personally moved through the process of losing, and then, finding myself.
If you’ve lost a piece of yourself, you can get it back, too.
Learn more about the Soul Retrieval process here.
What to read next: