I have long known without knowing why that April is or would be a significant month for me. This April has given me many indications as to why. Perhaps it will continue to be so in years to come, that I will marry in April, say, or die then. Or perhaps this is it; perhaps what has transpired this month is the extent of it. These past four weeks have been so rich: challenging, painful, joyful, rife with endings--and some beginnings too.
I had a hint in February that something of import would occur the first weekend of April. I'd been asked to assist with a course that would require volunteering all my waking hours that weekend. I checked my calendar: all clear. I wanted to do it; it was a pricey course I was very interested in, and supporting it as a volunteer would also give me access to much of the benefit of the course without the cost. Long story short, I told Peter, the course supervisor, that I'd let him know in two days. I got busy then, and two days later, in anticipation of calling Peter, I sat, got quiet and looked. I kept getting a "No," and I didn't know why. It made no sense. I really wanted to do it, I had the time, but something was telling me No, clearly and surely.
"I thought I'd be calling you with a Yes," I told Peter, "but this is coming up as a strong No. My father's sick," I continued, "maybe there's some reason I don't know that I need to keep that weekend open...if you know what I mean."
Fast forward two months.
I make a scheduled visit to my parents' house on Saturday, March 30th, and spend a sparkling day with them. My father has given up on the ponytail he has been trying to grow, and wants a haircut; I've come to give him one. He gives me a crash course in the use of his electric shears and its various attachments. I take my time, circling that kitchen chair numerous times to check angles and lengths, to trim a bit more off here then there, while my mother gathers some of the more substantial locks to save. As I cut, my mind wonders--supposes--that this will be his last haircut. Somehow we know, don't we? When I've finished, I present him with the mirror--the mirror he'd hung opposite the bathroom medicine cabinet mirror and used decade after decade to cut his own hair, in the same style he's been wearing since his twenties. He looks absolutely dashing, and I can tell by the way he regards himself there, patting the sides of his head, that he thinks so too. Success!
While he's still in the kitchen dusting all the stray hairs from his pajama bottoms and summoning his energy to return to his bed, my mother and I take the opportunity to strip the bed, flip the mattress which he's been wearing a good dent into, and make it up with clean, sunny yellow sheets. I crack the window open to change the air. We remove a clothes hamper from the room which I am sure has been adding to the staleness in his circumscribed living space. And once he's returned to bed, it does my heart good to see him lying there in those crisp sheets, to breathe in the freshness, but most of all to see my father looking so handsome, so refreshed himself, once he's recovered from the exertion of the kitchen excursion.
"Oh, I have my husband back!" my mother exclaims when she sees him. She breaks into a wide smile and moves to hug and kiss him.
Damn, he did: he looked great. When my mother had left the room, I bowed my head into my hand, pressing my eyelids with my fingers as if I could hold it back. I think I knew he was looking at me. I mocked a smile to cover my tears. It was the first time since he'd been sick that I cried in front of him.
"I wish I could make you feel as good as you look, Dad," I said.
I don't even remember his response. There probably wasn't one. But then by this point in our relationship, it had become apparent that most of the exchanges--certainly the most significant ones--between my father and I have transpired in silence. And they were no less substantial for being unspoken.
I was so aware that it had been too long since my last visit: three weeks. He'd been discouraging visits, not wanting to put me out, to be a burden, and I listened to him. But I knew as soon as I laid eyes on him that I'd been away too long. It's not that his condition had dramatically worsened or anything like that. It simply felt good just being in the same room with him, that's all.
"It makes a difference for me, coming," I told him. "You don't have to entertain me," I added. I thought he felt it might be boring for me to spend time just sitting by his bed.
"It's entertainment enough just looking at me," he joked.
A joke, but not: it was, entertainment enough, just looking at him.
I kept staying, that day. I sat beyond my mother's coaxing me to go. I sat beyond my internal clock, and beyond the nudging of the external clock: the day was waning; it was time to go. So I did go. But not before I hugged my father--with a real hug, the first of its kind, I want to say. We'd hugged each other many times over the years, but not like this. I really wanted to hug him; he really wanted to hug me. And that felt new.
I left feeling so uplifted. I'd taken a blow in my love life the day before which in the light of this visit faded almost instantaneously to nothing. What I experienced with my parents that day was so real, so Love. Not made from love, not loving, not an expression of love, not in love, but Love. And that warmed my heart completely.
Why I took my phone to bed that night, I don't know; I've never done that before. But there it was right beside me when my mother called early the next morning to say 'come.' My father had had a rough night, and was not coming out of it. He would die that day or the next, I was told. I canceled a client, got in the car, and drove.
He was stabilized, somewhat quiet by the time I arrived, but medicated to the point of coma. After months of meaning, wanting to do energy work on him, after months of that not feeling appropriate, now was the time: my hands flew to him when I entered his room. But it wasn't until about a half hour later, when my mother had gone to heat soup for us, to "care for the caretakers," that the Love started pouring full force from my hands. I didn't know what I was doing, but It knew what It was doing, and I just listened and followed as prompted. Concurrent with the shift I felt in me, I felt something shift in him. His breathing changed. And then, within minutes (two? three? five?), his breathing simply stopped.
Perhaps I will never find the words to adequately express those few minutes just before and during and after his passing. The closest I can come right now is this: he rode out on a river of Love, and I couldn't be happier about that.
It occurs to me that context might be helpful here. For most of my life I either hated, feared, avoided, or tolerated my father. We had come a long way together--the greatest distance, perhaps, in the past three months. To the point where the evening before he would (though we didn't know it at the time) die the next day at noon, we truly hugged each other: for the first time, there was nothing, nothing between us but Love. Love had its way with us--not just in that culmination-of-a hug, but in every facet of our lifetime journey together, I only now realize. The sweetness of one could not exist without the bitterness of the other. Contrast. It is by way of contrast that those last two days with my father shine with such preciousness. And tonight, though I've claimed it before, I know it is only now that I am truly grateful for it all.
And since that life altering first day of April, it has been a roller coaster of a month. I have gone on long enough for one entry, though. Suffice it to say that in writing what I just wrote, I have come to see that all of it too--even the parts of this ride this month that appeared as kicks in the gut, or steps backward--are all Love's way with me. For a time, I was viewing them as bad news. Only now do I see that each "blow" has moved me forward in my commitments to Life and to Love. I am beginning to understand more deeply and clearly the nature of my task. Morphine robbed us of any last words from my father, I might say. But that hug spoke volumes: nothing but Love between us. These are words to live by. Nothing but Love between me and...fill in the blank: this moment, this caller, this client, this beggar, this child, this sister, this mother, this body, this ailment, this heartache, this beloved...this bounty from today's garden. Yes, words to live by indeed.
Thank you, Dad. You led me here.