Monday, January 10, 2011

Saying goodbye... and hello

I knew this day would come eventually... after a long struggle with severe dementia and debilitating brain disease, my father passed away the morning after Christmas. On Christmas day, my mother, older Brother Vince, his kids, and Amanda all gathered in his hospice room and celebrated Christmas. We laughed, talked, shared some family time that we had not had in years, and finally said our goodbyes and final prayers with dad. My sister called in and did the same, which I suspect was the final piece of the puzzle my dad needed to move on ahead.

Late that night, I went back to my parent's house for a brief and fitful sleep. I was awoken in the middle of a dream early the next morning... as I fumbled for the phone, I knew exactly what the call meant. Mom sounded calm and tired on the other end of the line, and said that dad had just passed very peacefully a moment before in her arms.

I'm struggling with the fact that I haven't really outwardly grieved much since. We all did so much of that during the past three years that it seems ineffectual now. Every time he was close to death, we'd prepare ourselves, and then he'd spring back once again. Starting around Thanksgiving, things began to go downhill pretty fast. Towards the end, he was in a lot of pain and was truly suffering. How am I to feel bad knowing that now his soul is free of that broken body? It all comes down to what we choose to believe. Rather, whether we choose to believe it or not, I do know that our consciousness lives on in one form or another. If neither matter nor energy can be created or destroyed, why would the same rules not apply to the very essence of our being? I feel that in many ways that is in fact the only "real" thing we do experience. Everything else - this life, our world around us, etc. is merely an illusion. The connections between our spiritual selves are the only thing bridging the void between true light and nothingness.

It was such a surreal experience to sit with my father's body and feel it change from warmth to cold over the course of an hour. As his color faded, it became futile to try to keep his eyes closed, and I gazed into them for some clue of what the very recesses of the blackness might hold in the form of some reflection into eternity. I will never forget the moment that his face was covered as he was taken away... he looked holy, foreign, as if in a trancelike state like some ascetic who had reached enlightenment.

In the days that followed, I was able to make final arrangements for his remains, get Mom away and begin her long process of healing, take her on a marathon spa, shopping, and beauty day (boy was I out of my element!) and I managed to get her to come to a New Year's party. All of my friends were gracious and welcoming, and she was finally able to reconnect with people and have some fun for once.

As the clock struck midnight, I met some new friends, traveling musicians who were passing through town, and have had some great conversations with them since that has reawakened the passionate sense of the mystical beyond within me. I now sense that this will prove to be a gift I need to transition as I start the new year and my journey into whatever challenges and changes lie ahead.

I do know that I believe now more strongly than ever. As I always say, it's not at all important for me to quantify or define what that belief is in cultural, human terms. Knowing is enough. It seems that I continue to get slapped in the face with these reminders... My mom's dad died when she was five, the morning after Christmas, coughing up blood at age 25. I very nearly died coughing up blood at age twenty five and awoke on Easter Sunday. And my own father died the morning after Christmas. His father before him died January 9th, which also is the date of my dad's birthday. Does this mean anything at all? Not unless we need it to. And I needed it to. It's proof enough for me that God exists and works within our lives in a very real, tangible way.

I'm excited and energized to begin the new year. I can feel dad's spirit within me already, guiding my decisions and influencing my character. I see evidence of his presence in my humor, charm, and determination. And all I have to do is remember him to conjure up that spirit. It almost feels as if I'm adding an extra, invisible skin onto mine, but one that I'm completely comfortable in if that makes any sense.

I used to say that I would not let disease define who I am... now I see that it, along with everything else in my life, have come to make the man that I am. I was fortunate enough to see dad in early December, on what probably was the last day he was able to speak at all. As I entered the hospital room and greeted him he told me he was proud of me. Those were his final words to me.

Knowing that I go ahead, fearlessly, into the unknown.

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