My father has been in hospice for over six months. He is not in any pain, but his dying process has been a very slow one. I spent a few days with him recently, and we had an interesting conversation.

My father is weak and confused. When he is restless and agitated, he feels like he should go somewhere. The movies, a restaurant, the location varies but he is insistent he has to go. The last time I visited him, when he had more energy, I made three attempts to take to him for a car ride. He was completely spent by the time he got his coat on, and just could not go. This time, he had been talking about his mother, and he insisted that he wanted to go “upstairs”. There is no upstairs where he lives.

We were sitting on the edge of the bed together. I took a risk and went down a different road. I told him that his mother and his wife were waiting for him upstairs, and he could go there but he would have to go without his body. He accepted this matter-of-factly. I asked him if he knew what I meant and he said Yes. He took my hand and held it. I told him that his father was there too. He said that his father had been gone for a very long time. He couldn’t remember him. I told him that his brothers would be there. I told him that he could go upstairs and I would come along later. 

We talked for a little while about him going upstairs without his body. He knew what I was talking about, but didn’t know how to do it. I said that I didn’t know either, that that was something he was going to have to figure out. I offered that maybe when he is sleeping, he is practicing going there. He said that was true. I thought about the Tibetan Buddhist way of sitting with the dying and chanting. I wondered if the chanting creates a harmonic energy that assists the dying person in making the transition. We don’t have anything like that in American culture.

He was tired, and he laid down then. I got him tucked in and sat on the edge of the bed. Another day he’d told me that he didn’t want to leave his children. As a mother, I knew exactly what he meant. Those are powerful earthly bonds. I wanted to reassure him, however, that we would manage. I told him that his children would be okay, because we had each other. That helped him relax. He closed his eyes and fell asleep. 

About 45 minutes later I peeked my head into his room to check on him. He opened his eyes and looked at me. He sounded a little surprised and disappointed when he said, “Nothing happened yet!”.