In my father’s time of dying, I learned so very much, not only about him, his faith, and on how to die with dignity and grace, but also about myself.
How to handle stress
It is true. I am able to handle a great deal of stress. Of course I have coping mechanisms in place, mostly red wine. I tend to go into action, but then after the initial crisis I go quiet, passing into deep reflection and observation. During this time with my father, I gave myself space to mourn, let others around me be heard and seen, and I found myself attentively listening. I bore witness to Dad’s relentless faith, and my own healing.
Why does death make us feel so uncomfortable?
I know what you are thinking. Death is something we simply don’t talk about, as if death were a contagion, we divert our minds from all thoughts surrounding the fatality of life, or the realization that nobody gets out of this world alive. It makes us uncomfortable….
However, did you know that we are the only animal on the planet that knows we will eventually die, and with that burden comes the dilution of avoidance… well that and expensive creams, Botox, surgery and an endless market selling us the idea of looking younger and living longer. Yet death is a natural, cardinal part of life. Just look towards nature; the endless cycles, the seasons, the rebirth, the old under growth and you can see there is a balance, a simplicity to the end of life that possesses beauty. So I made a decision. I would embrace this experience whole-heartedly. If not now, while losing my parent, then when? I opened myself up to learning without fear, and to let the lessons come no matter what emotions surfaced.
So who was this man I called Dad? He was a man of the cloth who followed God’s Holy Will and it is true, I felt judgment whenever I would go against what he believed. Over time, my father would push me away, and inevitably he gave little time to me. He would not compromise his afterlife and followed the hard line, obeyed the rules, leaving me just outside his sphere of existence. With 30 years of devotion to Jay Dub, I don’t think I ever stopped hoping we would be closer.
Of course life goes on, moving steadily forward. I choose how I would cope with my father’s abandonment. Me being me, I created a life I was truly excited about. I got married, and had my children. I enjoyed my life, even though deep down there was always a little pain.
No, it wasn’t always easy. And as my friends know, this was not my first rodeo with the Grim Reaper. There were times we walked together for such a long stretch it became a normal thing funerals, flowers, grief…
Even so, watching so many people leave this world, I learned that I must live my best life now, pursue my version of happiness, and go after my dreams full throttle no matter what life tries to throw in the way to slow me down. Afterall, time is of the essence, so why not fill your days with glorious endeavors. Mine is a life full of massive amounts of love and experiences. And I could have left things as they were with my father and continue on my merry way. But would that have solved anything from my past? With Dad going, it was my last chance to resolve things with him.
I had to choose. Do I make the moves to make things right? Further, this time death felt different. Ultimately it was my dad, and cancer. His diagnoses came in June 2022. There was something so innate, right down to the DNA I carry, that made this ending more profound. To watch this powerful figure in my life fade. He was smaller, and meek, and if I wanted to, I could wound him back for all those years of indifference. Except that felt unfair to me. He did not have the energy to combat infidels, slay dragons or ward off demons. So I stopped to pause. I had a choice. Then something magical happened. His illness opened up a little space for healing.
And healing I did. In that moment, I felt gratitude. Hey, it surprised the heck out of me too! I readied myself for a fight, pain, sadness but gratitude? In some strange way, Dad’s distancing himself from me made me strive, and work harder to achieve my goals. That chip on my infamous shoulder thrust me forward.
Further, I did not know any different than my father’s search for faith so how could I know what a ‘normal’ father-daughter relationship should feel like. And when I think of Dad’s short existence and how if any factors were different during his life, I realized I wouldn’t even be here. All the choices he made, all the reasons he reasoned inevitably molded the person who created me, and shaped me into who I would become. Even after he left, his influence was still present, and I would strive, overcome and achieve. Even through all that, I am still the happiest person I know. So how can I hold a grudge.
Not my fault
And then came the realization. My moment of clarity was knowing that his struggles in life, which led to a fundamental religion, had nothing to do with me at all. As children, we tend to blame ourselves for everything that happens in our worlds, thinking if only I were a more well-behaved, a smarter daughter, or a softer spoken person then my parents would have stayed together. he would have loved me more if i was the son he wanted. If only I didn’t have this strong willfulness. The stories we tell ourselves are untrue. It had nothing to do with me. Afterall I was a child of eleven when he left. His issues trying to make life manageable, understandable, even controllable, were solved by his devout faith. It put everything into a little tiny box with simple rules, and the big scary world with all the devilish things; complicated systems, vast empires, war and politics, they would all fall to the wayside. He simplified.
What’s more, his views of the world developed long before I came into this world. He had escaped communism during the 1956 revolution, endured his own suffering, and carried generational trauma from wars gone by. His devotion to his faith was his cure, his salvation and he was a better man for it. He was a survivor.
Cancer is a tireless disease. Slowly it chipped away at his body’s defense, but also his protective barrier that kept me out. With his defences low, I climbed over the metaphoric wall. There were gatherings, phone conversations and understanding. There were some arguments, but mostly resolutions. He spoke of our family dynamics, society at large, and the mystical ways of the world. I listened to his evaluations, and revelations. He was truly worried about the afterlife and what will happen to his family and humanity in general. And through it all, those countless hours, my heart was healing. I understood him better. I also realized that he does love me. And surprisingly, he was proud of me.
Giving what you get
And what did I actually want from this 75 year old man lying on his deathbed? It was what I would inevitably give him. Forgiveness. Love. So much love. By excepting that it was his life to choose the way he wanted to live, I realized we are not that far apart after all. We are both curious creatures searching, and trying to make sense of this world.
Who was he?
Well, Dad was an interesting person. I have met many people on this crazy journey called life, as we blast through the universe on this tiny rock but rarely have I come across a person with such complexity, devotion or intellect. He knew a little bit about everything, was always reading, and loved to discuss his learning. He was a happy man, a good man and his demeanor was kind and gentle. A teacher. A seeker. A philosopher. A baker. A father. A son. A brother. A husband. A friend. A minister. My dad was many things. And the people came in droves to say goodbye. The Kingdom Hall will be full. He had been a leader to many people who lived in his sphere, those who follow the Truth and in many ways his life was a great success. I am but one part of many.
The gift in witnessing his death
Although, painful to watch him fade, and slowly reach his end, I did get a very special gift from him. No not the necklace hanging around my neck, although I love that too. It was time. A little vacation at the end of his life that would give me the rare opportunity to reconnect. I got to say all the things I needed to say. My pain slowly left me, his heart softened, and our estranged family reunited. It was the best death ever!
Lastly, it has been truly an honour to witness part of this incredible man’s journey. He showed bravery, remained optimistic, had endless amounts of grace and above all dignity through his painful demise. It was remarkable to observe. I was deeply humbled by my father’s passing.
It also made me reconfirm my initial thoughts about life and how I lived. Because life is incredible short, so make the most of it. Live your very best life and head straight towards the goals and dreams you have always desired. Be present. Observe. Participate. Love deeply. Jump boldly. Divot, learn and continue growing right until your last breath. Life is incredibly beautiful. It is a massive gift to wake up each and every day to be part of it all. Live every moment with your eyes wide open. Try not to miss any of it.
I mean, let’s be honest. I always imagined myself kicking and screaming, clawing the edge of my grave with tears rolling down my face! No dignity in sight.
Now, from Dad, I have learned how to die.
I hope you reach the paradise you have been working so hard for.
I love you back.