|"The Force is strong in these two."|
"There are moments which mark your life. Moments when you realize nothing will be the same and time is divided into two parts- before this and after this." Lauren Kate
It's been three months of swift change, an April 1st joke that wasn't a joke. My Dad was diagnosed with end stage renal cancer, and he survived for 74 days post diagnosis. As I come away from an intense family experience of taking care of him at home, I feel depleted and saddened by his loss. My mother and sister stepped up to the hospice challenge like professional sports players. It was what my Dad wanted, to be comfortable, to be home, to be surrounded by those he loved, to have closure with his family. In a weird way, it was a gift to have these last couple months with him, he was aware of everything, and wise words flowed from him like he was a sage waiting for this moment to share deep and important mysteries learned in one lifetime. To say I loved my Dad completely almost doesn't do our relationship justice. My Dad taught me to be strong, independent, to pursue education fiercely, to be kind, to love, and to be happy. A family man to the core, the best Dad I could ask for, adventures around every corner, music, laughter, joy, and the most amazing Papa to my boys. So, while going through the transitions of change, losing my Dad, my friend, my co-grandparent, I am now faced with my first summer without him.
"To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived - that is to have succeeded."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
My boys are 7 and 4, their whole lives revolve around family. They know love through the support of family and friends. My husband is a man with quiet, compassionate strength, who stood by me like the magnificent redwoods we traveled to visit on our honeymoon. Over the last 74 days, I drove to my parents house and helped my mother care for my father. All our efforts focused on his comfort, we cleaned, cooked, washed everything, assisted my Dad to shave, shower, and get dressed. The best days were when we could get him outside, he felt the springtime breeze on his face, and he enjoyed special time with my boys. The importance of showing my children the reality, and inevitability of death wasn't something I thought about, but exposing them to a dying man who was their hero didn't faze them. Hugs, kisses and snuggles abounded, and it was exactly what we all needed. Children have a way of staying right in the present moment, and that's where we should be.
"Change is the only constant in life." Heraclitus
My Dad believed in the right to die. Long conversations with his oncologist revealed that if my Dad couldn't live the life he wanted to live, why would he want to prolong an illness that isn't curable? He posed textbook ethical questions to us, and to his doctors. We talked about maintaining dignity, and respect for the human body. He endured 3 weeks of palliative radiation to help alleviate some pain, as the cancer spread to his bones and his spine. My Dad had some serious courage; having the strength to face the inevitable without fear. To seek comfort with quality of life as the goal is what drove his decision to not pursue chemotherapy. I believe my Dad confronted his diagnosis with bravery and honor. Of course there were moments of doubt and fear that crept in, and I rallied my inner reserves to have the most difficult discussions of my life with my Dad. I helped calm his anxiety with deep breathing, and we talked extensively about meditation, finding peace, and letting go. One day we used the imagery of a caterpillar going inside its chrysalis to wait patiently for the metamorphosis to occur.
"Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation." Rumi
When someone you love dies, they still live on in your heart and mind. The memory won't let go, and the ache that sustains never really goes away. Everyday, my younger son asks where Papa is. Why can't we see him anymore? Where did he go? We talk about Heaven and how it is all around us, in the sky, the sun, the moon, in the earth, the trees, plants and flowers, in the air, and the water. It seems natural to discuss the tangible qualities of our beautiful planet that surround our senses. My older son says Papa is in the wind that rustles through the leaves, the grass that tickles our feet, the warmth of the sun that we feel on our skin, the repetitive sound of the rain, or the constancy of ocean waves rolling in and rolling out. Our church, our sanctuary, is in nature, and we feel it everyday.
My grief is ongoing, I try not to dwell on the loss, but focus on remembering all I have because of my Dad. I think a lot about my Mom, and how she faces her future after 45 years of marriage to one man who is now gone. Smile, live, love, that is what he would want us to do. I gather my strength, my perseverance, my love, and push on.
There are moments of solace and refuge that come in the sweet faces of my boys. Their ability to understand the tragic and complicated events of life continue to impress me. Their faith in what they know is true, consoles my heart. My children are huge 'Star Wars' fans, they believe in the Force. Both boys play out detailed scenes of Han Solo and Chewbacca flying the Millennium Falcon, battling the Empire in their quest of freedom to the galaxy. Yoda, Luke Skywalker, and Obi-Wan Kenobi are the Jedi Knights they strive to be. One night in April we were reading our bedtime stories, and 'The Legendary Yoda', was part of the book stack that always seems too big to get through before bed. In the fictional series 'Star Wars', Yoda was defender of the galaxy, Master of the Force, and the greatest Jedi who has ever lived. He was 900 years old when he passed away. Below is a summary taken from the book we read that night, written by Catherine Saunders.
"Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed, that is." Master Yoda
The "Force" surrounds all living things. This powerful energy has a light side and a dark side. The light side is used for good; expressed as love, kindness, caring, compassion, empathy, and joy. The dark side is used for evil; expressed as hate, sadness, jealousy, regret, fear, anger, and confusion. Those who live the light side of the "Force" are respected by those who value peace, justice, and freedom, and feared by those who use the dark side of the "Force". When living beings of the light side of the "Force" pass on, the wisdom and knowledge of the "Force" shows that death is simply a part of nature, and not to be feared because death is not the end. They live on through all light users of the "Force" and surround us always. These powers are strong and the spirit becomes one with the "Force".