Thank you in advance, dear Universe, for allowing words to flow directly through my fingertips, for my mind is filled with grief and fog. There is too much importance to allow for escape. So, please… let this page hold space for me and my broken heart.
Just a little test escape… a weekend of caregiver respite, desired FOR me by my parents, and required by my body and soul, to enable my ability to continue serving with grace, ease, and joy. Three nights. It will only be three nights. I can trust that everything will be okay for three nights… in order to engage in self care. In order to pour my body into living waters, to be held in the womb of Mother Earth, in order to be reborn. Just three nights, to see how it goes, then possibly plan for longer.
For weeks, I planned and worried. A place to go that will feel healing. A selection of friends who stepped forward to serve ME. A stand-in caregiver to serve my father at each edge of the day. An extraordinary new neighbor, with an offer of support. It would only be three nights. I had an ominous feeling. My stomach didn’t feel quite right. There was a Tower in the reading, and a Four of Swords. Would it be the release and rest I needed, that would transform, or would it be… the thing I dare not speak. I worried that maybe we five wouldn’t get along. I worried that I should cancel. I worried about the loss of a large sum of non-refundable investment. I worried that we would get there, then be called home. I worried that something would happen, and I would be hours away. I worried that he would ask me to stay. I worried that he wouldn’t ask me to stay, even though he meant it.
There were signs, in the days before. Stepping out of my parents’ house on June 22, a snake greeted me atop the hedge. Then on July 8, my cats alerted me to a snake on the threshold of my own home, that I later discovered upon opening the door, was shedding its skin. I do not fear snakes, and feel that a sighting brings affirmation and reflection. I ask myself, in those rare moments, what might be the message? The assumption: Transformation is coming. Soon, that which has become limiting will be released and offer freedom.
The day before departure, he wasn’t feeling well. There had been a couple of weeks of discomfort. We’d met virtually with the doctor, and followed guidance, but he didn’t feel good, and I struggled with leaving. I asked him to let me take him to the hospital. They could do tests, and he would have expert care in my absence. I could truly relax. His reply: “No, I’m not ready.” Respecting my parents’ autonomy as they age, has been a boundary I have worked not to cross… sometimes stepping on toes. My Mom calls me ‘bossy’, sometimes. I have decided to be a servant, for better or worse, and I mean to respect their every wish.
The day before departure, my brand new next door neighbor called me to say that she should meet my parents before I leave, so she could offer assistance while I was away. At some point, in recent months, I had asked the Universe to deliver the right people to enable my respite. I have come to know that my request was filled in abundance. (I hope this will inspire you to start asking for what you need, too.)
I can’t remember Friday morning. I believe I stopped by while he was still sleeping. My friends arrived for the long drive north. I texted his caregiver about my concerns, and what to look out for. Don’t forget his pills. Drinks with electrolytes in the fridge. [Even though I’m scared, I trust all shall be well.] I texted that night to be sure he got tucked in. The first full day I’d been away since Thanksgiving, when he came home from rehab after breaking his hip – now a virtual paraplegic. 11pm, and all was well.
At 5:30am on Saturday, my phone lights up with “Dad Needs You”. My brother programmed Alexa to call me at his command. I didn’t know how to program anything else, and instructed him to call me if Mom (who is hearing impaired) couldn’t hear him. I would reach out from where I was to deliver assistance. His voice: “Melissa, I’m ready to go to the hospital.”
By the time all calls had been made, all five of us were in the living room, four beloved friends holding space for me and my Pop. I called my Mom with no answer. I called my house sitter with no answer. I called my new angel-neighbor, who followed instructions to find my key and then my parents’ key, to open the door for paramedics, who would carry my father to safety. “Don’t you dare come home.”, my parents said. He is receiving the care he needs. You can rest.
My coffee was served with a shot of Kahlua. I was carried to the sacred spring where my body could receive cold healing. I made calls upon return to the log cabin in the woods. They were running tests. A UTI. Should probably see a Pulmonologist as an outpatient. Fierce daughter reply: “My father is homebound. While in the hospital, doctors come to him. He may not be discharged until we know why he can’t breathe.” He later threw up, though he’d not eaten all day. He told me by phone he didn’t feel good, but not to come home. I screamed and cried as my friends held me close. It was the hardest thing to do… to not go home.
He was admitted that night. My mom was delivered to and from the hospital by my angel-neighbor. More tests. They would care for him to enable my respite. They would call with updates (I had to call every time.) It was hard to stay, but impossible to leave. My body, my soul, my heart needed respite. I needed my friends to hold my soul together and feed me the love I had given to others. They, too, are my angels.
We built a fire, and asked the flames to cleanse and purify my sorrow, my fear, my fatigue, and that which was ailing my father. We made wishes with treated pinecones, which burned green and blue. I thanked the universe in advance for holding my father close, for making him feel safe, and for giving me the strength I needed for whatever would lie ahead. His caregiver visited him in the hospital on my behalf, bringing him his glasses and tablet. He’ll want his books and puzzles, after all… while the tests are done and doctors are seen.
On Monday morning, we packed up and drove home. I checked on Mom then went to the hospital. I told him that staying away was so hard. He didn’t want to eat. He drank from a cup I prepared for him, but just a bit.
[As I type, two Mourning Doves have perched upon the feeder outside my window. One is preening and looking at me, while the other eats from the feeder, looking up at me, too. I’ve never seen them do this before, usually gathering bits on the ground. Their symbolism from dying.lovetoknow.com reads: “The dove’s appearance to someone in mourning is often viewed as a visitation from the deceased loved one. The person in mourning senses a message of hope or encouragement from their deceased loved one. Others believe the mourning dove is a messenger sent by angels, spirit guides, or even God..” Seriously… they are still there. I see you.]
I went back to ‘tuck him in’ Monday night, and returned Tuesday for our ‘morning ritual’. He didn’t want to eat. He didn’t want to drink. He said: “I just don’t know how I’m going to get out of here.” I watched him rest. I told him I would come back after a nap. As he did every day, he said: “I’ll wait right here.”
I was preparing to return to the hospital when the phone rang. The nurse said he was being taken to ICU. His oxygen was in the low 80s. I didn’t get to see him. I waited. Visiting hours ended. I called to say, “I’ll wait right here.”
The doctor said, he had given them permission to intubate and put him on a ventilator to work out the problem. We learned he had severe pneumonia. I told my brother to come. I informed my father’s five siblings. I went home to tell my Mom.
On Wednesday, my brother and sister-in-law drove up, as my father’s only out-of-state brother drove down with his wife. In the rest of the hospital, Covid restrictions meant that a patient could only have two visitors per day. Gratefully, ICU patients could have two visitors at a time.
We sat by his side, watching the machine do its thing. I remembered how it was reported that many Covid patients did not survive coming off of the ventilator. They assured me this wasn’t Covid, so there was hope.
My parents have gifted my brother and me with preparedness. When they moved closer to me, they updated their will, gave each of us power of attorney, established the line of healthcare advocacy, and advance directive / five wishes.[The male cardinal has just stopped by the feeder for a bite – my symbol for my love language – ‘showing up’. Thank you, love, for showing up today.]
In my father’s notes, he declared that his wish was not to prolong death. He listed what he considered to be life-support treatment to include “major surgery, blood transfusion, dialysis, antibiotics, procedures, devices, medications, (other than to keep me pain free) should not be used to prolong life. I have lived my life with love and service to others, made my own mistakes, suffered my own pains. When it is time to leave, I only wish to do so with love and dignity.” He marked the box if he was close to death that read: “I do not want life-support treatment. If it has been started, I want it stopped.”
I discussed these things with the doctor. We agreed to give it some time, while the family gathered. On Thursday, as my brother and I sat with Dad, before he and his wife would return home to care for my sister’s beloved mother with Alzheimers, and their teenage granddaughter, I heard a beautiful voice from a nearby room.
Out stepped a woman with a guitar, and so I inquired. By prescription, patients in ICU could have music therapy. Lexa offered to give therapy in advance and get permission later.
[The tufted titmice are now here… more than I’ve seen before. Usually 4 at a time, but today at least 6 or 8 (“The prayers that you are speaking over your life are heard and the Tufted Titmouse is a reminder that blessings are forthcoming. It is a symbol of faith. And an encouraging message for you to keep it.”). And the female cardinal is peering down from the oak branch.]
The therapist asked for a favorite song or genre, and I told her that he prefers folk music. She found John Denver, and when I heard the first title, I knew it was right. A life-long friend of mine used to come to our house for safe haven when we were young, and she had been distressed that Dad was so ill while she was traveling for work. The song Lexa performed for Pop was Sunshine On My Shoulders. I recorded and I cried. She dedicated it not only to Pop, but to my brother and me. As hard as it was for me not to leave respite, I know it was hard for he and his wife to go back home. Seeing how music affected Pop, I set up his tablet to stream the Folk Music channel on Amazon. I told him I would see him tomorrow, but he didn’t say, “I’ll wait right here.”
On Friday, I felt a shift. I was talking to Dad as I walked about the house, pouring my morning gratitude into coffee. “Thank you in advance, dear angels, for holding my father in the light of love, and for guiding me toward right action.” I pulled a card from Alana Fairchild’s Journey of Love Oracle, and the message was, SOFT. It was number 47 and the message was on page 111. It read as follows:
“A sanctuary bathed in soft light, your heart is receptive, inviting, and gentle. It brings strength to the weary, comfort to the lonely, and healing to the wounded. It is a magnet for all that is needed – for you, your beloveds, your world. Don’t imagine you must always be the fighter, going against the part of your nature that longs for harmony and peace. This is your time to be soft. To surrender. To let the subtle waves of the heart invite love in, and to receive. In doing so, you will give so much.
This oracle brings you a message of peace. Surrender now. Be soft. Even just for this moment of quiet reflection. You have perhaps been working too hard at growing and living. Take some moments to replenish and allow the divine to help you, dear one. Be soft so you are receptive to the Divine. It is when we let go that we truly perceive the obstacles that lie between us and oneness with the divine lover. Let go and perceive that the divine lover is already awakening in your heart.
You are the softness he desires
You help light his way
You nurture all
That he holds dear
Though tempest clouds dismay
And in the quiet of the storm
His gentleness comes through
And in the shelter of his arms
His heart is there for you”
When I got to Dad’s room, his skin was red with fever, and his heartrate was more than double its norm. They were allowing him to breathe on his own with the ventilator only offering oxygen. This, they said, was the process of trying to take someone off of the ventilator… letting them strengthen, then rest, then strengthen some more.
I texted my mother, my brother, and my father’s siblings, and I told them that I felt we should let him go. Though it pained us all, we were in agreement. We chose not to betray him. We chose to honor his wishes. We are capable of hard things. This is the hardest thing I have ever done. I spoke to two doctors and his nurses. If we took him off life support, he would not survive. If we kept him on for weeks to see if medication and machines could manufacture a new beginning, we would risk bringing him back to the surface, only to suffer the continued pain of life inside a broken, 84 year old body. He would eventually be moved out of ICU, and placed where the care would not be ‘intensive’, but lacking.
Daddy’s siblings came to see him and to say goodbye. They felt the decision was the right action. Since he is the eldest of seven, they were saying farewell to a brother they had known every single day of their lives. We talked about our history of lost loves, regrets, and signs. My Uncle told me that as he and his wife read my post that morning about the oracle card I had drawn, his wife had opened her wallet to reveal their room key, partially obscured in its pocket, it read: “It’s Time To Let Me Go”.
Between visitors, I read to my father. On his first day on the ventilator, I read to him poetry by David Whyte and John O’Donahue. And then I read him my latest blog post about the tree in my neighbors yard that will soon be removed. As I read those words to him, I realized that every word of Deep Grief and the Ailing Oak, had been written for him. Seriously, EVERY. WORD.
When Mom visited Dad, it was hard. They’d lived together for 60 years, and didn’t really talk much when he was not unconscious. She wasn’t sure what to say when it seemed he wasn’t listening. But I assured her that he could hear us. That night, she sent me a message that read: “You know what Dad likes? Winnie-the-Pooh.” And so, that is how I spent the last full day with my Father… reading to him the book that he once read to me. I remember the four of us circled in the living room, taking turns reading chapters as I was learning to read.
After five chapters, I reminded Daddy that when his body was gone from us, he was instructed to haunt us. My brother and I both requested that he show up to us in ways that we could understand. Every morning when I lifted him out of bed and into his chair, he insisted on listening to his music. With a love of Folk Music, I found a station and pressed play. Here were the first three songs that played, before visiting hours ended, and I was forced to leave him behind… hearing him say: “I’ll wait right here.”: Sailing by Christopher Cross – “Just a dream and the wind to carry me, and soon I will be free.” Followed by, Just the Way You Are by Billy Joel – “I said I love you, that’s forever, and this I promise from the heart. I couldn’t love you any better. I love you just the way you are” And the last song my father sent to me before they made me leave was, You Are So Beautiful by Joe Cocker – “You’re everything I hoped for. You’re everything I need. You are so wonderful to me.”
Okay Pop… music it is. You will communicate to me, in part, through music. I’m listening.
That night, I came home and asked our friends and loved ones to hold my father close. I shared the words of Phowa Practice from the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, and asked them if they would say this prayer, or one of their own, on his behalf. [We are wealthy in our friends.] I asked one friend to drive my mother and me to the hospital the next day, and my life-long friend flew in to stay the night and say good-bye to the father-figure that she deserved. I spoke to the owner of our local crematorium, whom I discovered during End of Life Doula studies a few years earlier. We shared deep, meaningful conversation, and more than one synchronicity. I decided to commit the sacred vessel of my father to her care, when it was time.
I probably don’t have to write down for posterity that it was impossible to sleep, or how a body holding grief and empathy for the dying feels not a single inch of comfort. Everything is clenched from scalp to toes. The grieving become the embodiment of pain and suffering.
On Saturday morning, we moved through thickness and nausea. Not a moment spent without question. Is he ready to go? Are we ready to let go? How will we survive this day? Are we making a mistake? Will he suffer? Is he suffering? Will we collapse under the weight of not knowing? Have I misread the signs? From his advance directive and five wishes, have I betrayed him by waiting this long? Have I betrayed him by not waiting long enough? Will my knees fall out from under me? Have I prepared the right words for his soul to hear? Will he follow them into the light of all that is? Will he be stubborn and choose to remain in suffering, just to be with us for a while longer… like that Thursday before my trip, when I asked him to let me take him to the hospital? He is the one on the ventilator, so why am I the one that can’t breathe? Daddy-daddy… I love you.
We arrived at the hospital and our friends and companions said their good-byes, and we all stepped out after the paperwork was signed and respiratory therapist came in to remove all of the tubing that filled my father’s mouth, throat and nose. My mother and I returned alone, and I called my brother and sister-in-law, who wanted to be with us, though they could not be physically present. The nurse would come in to ensure Dad was comfortable. There was a gurgle of moisture in his throat. His eyes were closed, but when we spoke, he would turn his head. [Should I have opened his eyes for him? Did I fail him again?]
I spoke the words of Phowa, and asked that he know he was forgiven for anything that he may have thought or done, and that we hoped he would forgive us. When my mother spoke those words [“I forgive you, and I hope you forgive me.”], he turned his head toward her and his mouth changed shape, though he could not speak. In that gesture, I know there was forgiveness between them.
Dad’s brother, who had driven down when he’d heard the news, joined us in the room. He was committed to being present for all of us. I read a poem shared by a friend, written by Byron Ballard. The words are stirring and felt just right. We looked out the window, and the puffy clouds created a blue opening in the sky. I read these words and invited my father to go through the portal… just like in Stargate. It is open and ready for your next adventure.
Words of Byron Ballard
[Beloved brother, husband, father and friend:] You have come to the end of this pathway in a journey to which we bear witness.
You have come to the end of a pathway that is barred with a gate and a door.
May this door open swiftly and silently. May this gate give you a moment’s grace in which to rest your spirit before you venture through.
We stand here with you, as your companions, as your family, for you are beloved. But, for now, we must remain here. We cannot go with you to this old land. Not yet.
For you will see the Ancestors. You will see the Beloved Dead. You will walk among the Divine Beings that guide and nurture us all. You go to dwell in the lands of summer and of apples, where we dance forever youthful, forever free. We can hear the music in the mist, the drums that echo our sad hearts. We can see your bright eyes and your smile.
And so, we open the gate. We push back the door. We hold the gate open. We glance through the doorway, and with love and grief and wonder… we watch you walk through. Hail the Traveler! All those remembered in love, in honor, live on. Farewell, o best loved, o fairest, farewell.
I re-read to him the slightly edited letter that I thought I was writing to my ailing oak tree, but found it to be truly for him.
Beloved, sacred, holy being of earth and sky,
Thank you for loving us. Thank you for extending your beautiful branches into our lives. You have long stood sentinel near our home, offering shade and shelter for myself and many. Every summer, you host the return of our screaming cicadas and I am transported to childhood with memories of freedom. As years have passed, you have lost limbs and branches, and I have feared the day when your leaves would drop in the spring, and not return. And yet, you have continued to bloom… thriving through adversity… a body dis-eased but stubborn.
Every day, you remind me to thrive. You validate my own choice to nurture and support the lives and well-being of others. My own scars, bulges, and flaws are held in the light of love, because I have learned to love myself as I have loved you, even when gravity pulls you downward.
In this moment, we cannot fathom your absence. When you are gone, we will feel empty. Many will become temporarily homeless and afraid. Cicadas will rise from slumber and discover the lack of you. The view from our window will be naked and bright, and our hearts will be curtained no longer with branches and leaves, but with sorrow and longing.
I hope you will forgive me for being powerless to save you. I forgive you for not being strong enough to ensure your safety. I love you for the roots that have broken concrete, reminding me that Mother Nature is more powerful than anything man can do to limit Her progress. I love you for the trunk and branches of holding, which have been the playground of squirrels that have long entertained the cats who live here. I love you for your leaves of change that remind me that everything is temporary – as old leaves fall away to reveal fresh new growth each February.
Everything is temporary. Everything is temporary. And so, we must also say goodbye. We have to let you go. Thank you for loving us and for inviting us to love you back. We will miss you when you are gone… every. single. day. But we will also remember you with gratitude and great pleasure, for the memories you have provided. New growth will come again, you have shown us that truth. And just as you have embraced our home and property with your kindness, love and protection… we will be open to receive.
Because of your love, we have no choice but to love again. We love you. Thank you. Hail and Farewell.
I chanted the healing chant and the river is flowing chant, that I once sang to my goddess babies in their mothers’ bellies. I played a piece of music a member of our beloved church community shared with me that morning. The nurse came in to bring him more comfort. The gurgling was still there, and she left to ask the doctor about giving him another dose of something to dry it. My uncle stepped away for a few moments.
I pushed play on the Amazon Folk Channel I’d been playing each night when I left him. It had stopped with the question, ‘are you still listening?’ Wondering how long his body would choose to hold onto his tethered soul, I hoped it would bring comfort. And here… is what had been waiting to be played all day… The Air that I Breathe by the Hollies – To my mother, my brother, to my sister-in-law, and to me… my father sent this message: “All I need is the air that I breathe and to love you.” We laughed and we cried, for the irony of a beautiful being whose lungs could not hold oxygen. We watched the number growing smaller and smaller, and we were all honored and heartbroken to bear witness to the grand departure of our beloved Traveler as he walked through the gate. It was 1:52pm at his last visible breath, and 2:02pm at his final heartbeat. My new Angel number… 2:02. When I see it, I will know he is near.
“Peace came upon me and it leaves me weak, so sleep silent angel, go to sleep.”
Thank you for walking this path with us. There is a long, long way yet to go on this journey of grief, and we know we are not alone.
I love you, daddy. Send me the songs and the signs, please. I’ll wait right here.