Thank you to so many of you who have reached out with condolences. I appreciate you reading my blog, and today, I appreciate you allowing me to process some of my grief with you. I know that sharing stories of my dad is all part of the healing process.
It is hard for me to believe that just a week ago, we had a funeral service for my dad. And now I am learning what it means to grieve, and also learning what is helpful and not helpful in that process.
2020 has been wrought with challenges and we are all grieving. Next week, I will share some of the things I have learned this year, but today, I want to share some of the memories from the last week of my dad’s life.
My dad died on his own terms, choosing to stop eating on a Friday. He said goodbye to the people he loved via Zoom. He entered Hospice on a Tuesday and died on Saturday. He died with the people he loved surrounding him. The fact that it took him such a short time at the end really told me how debilitated he had become in this final year of his life. The constant pain, a weakening heart, and isolation from others (Dad loved talking to people) took its toll.
While watching a loved one die isn’t easy, by my dad’s side was the only place I wanted to be. So many families didn’t have the option for being with loved ones due to COVID so I do not take that gift for granted. I am incredibly grateful for the little things, the sacred moments I can hold on to.
I was helping Dad plan his funeral, picking out readings and songs. I was trying to sing church hymns to him, and he really didn’t like them much. Finally, I just started singing, “You are my Sunshine,” a song Dad sang to me when I was a little girl. He looked at me, and mouthed the words along with me, singing with his heart. Then he said, “I love you.” Each of those “I love you”s from his last week are like valuable coins I received. I rub them together in my pocket, holding on to the last sounds of his voice, the touch of his hand in mine. Sometimes it brings smiles, other times tears.
When I told Dad that Fr. Ken, a family friend for over 50 years, was going to be the celebrant at the funeral, my dad said, “Good! When is the funeral?” I had to remind him that as the star attraction, he would be a large part in deciding what day that was going to be.
There was the time Mom and I were sitting with him, and he grabbed both of our hands and started praying the “Our Father.” Or the time I was sitting by his side and his hand made the sign of the cross. He was saying his prayers, even though he hadn’t spoken or opened his eyes for much of the day. I knew he believed there was something wonderful on the other side of death.
One evening, my brothers, mom and I played cards. Dad had been sleeping and quiet most of the day. Mom left to take a shower and I told Dad the boys had beaten us in cards. He smiled. I asked him if he would come back and sit on my shoulder to help me play cards, and he said he would sit on everyone’s shoulders. Then he looked around at the three of us and said, “Take care of Mom.”
One of the most surprising and wonderful things that happened that week involved cigarette smoke. I was straightening his covers Tuesday night around 2 am and I distinctly smelled smoke. It was an odd occurrence in our house because no one smoked. I even lifted the pillows to my nose to see if the odor was coming from them.
I told my mom and brothers the story the next day and they thought it was odd, until the week progressed, and each of them had their own experience of smelling the cigarette smoke. My dad was the youngest of eight children, and the last living member of his family. All of our aunts and uncles smoked so we guessed they were gathering. At one point, I had to ask my grandmother to take all her kids away because the smoke was too strong in our house! Even the nurse who came to care for Dad on Saturday said she smelled smoke in her car as she drove up. She checked the sidewalk for walking smokers the smell was so strong.
On Saturday, out of the blue, my uncle’s wife called just to say hello to mom and dad. When
Mom explained what was happening, Marianne told my mom that it was the anniversary of Dale’s death. Dale was closest in age to Dad and they were best friends. And Dale smoked like a chimney. We put two and two together and realized that Dale had been with us all week, sitting beside Dad, just waiting to take him home, on the anniversary of his own death.
As a sensitive, empathic healer, I never felt like we were alone in our caring for Dad. I could close my eyes and see intuitively the angels around his bed, soothing him to sleep. I could feel the room full of people, celebrating Dad’s life. It was such comfort to know that no one ever dies alone. There are always a host of angels and people waiting on the other side to guide each of us in the last moments of life.
Yes, they are little things, but each little moment is something I can hold, and remind myself that my dad’s life was a gift. His death was a gift. He is surrounded by people who love him. I hold these memories together in my pocket like coins, rubbing them to a beautiful shine. I am allowing the memories of his life and death to sustain me through the coming days and months of grief. I am allowing myself to cry and process.
I know that one day, this loss will be integrated into all I am. Right now, everything is raw and fresh, and it feels surreal. I half expect to hear his voice on the phone again or walk into Mom’s house and see him sitting in his chair.
But I take great comfort knowing he is in a better place, free of pain, celebrating a life well lived with his family. I love you always Dad.