I’ve been thinking about the difference between my father’s death and my mother’s. My father’s death was very gradual––he had been in home hospice for over ten months and just gently slid into the next world. He was well-prepared for his transition. He had been sleeping a lot in the last months, and seemed bewildered when he was awake. When I asked him if he thought he was practicing going back and forth to heaven, he said Yes.
My mother’s death two years ago was unexpected, out of the blue, taking place over a matter of minutes. It was shocking for everyone around her, and I imagine it was for her, too. She was unprepared for her transition––she needed some time to figure out how to go. (For a description see My Mother’s Spirit, posted June 23, 2016).
We are all regularly making transitions in our lives. Some of them are sudden, like a cancer diagnosis, and require a lot of best-you-can-do decision making in a short time. Some transitions are more gradual, like the loss of a parent, and there is more time to figure out how to move forward.
With my father’s death, I have become parent-less. I miss my father and our daily conversations but I am relieved—for both of us—that his dying process is over. I am slowly disengaging from the role of caregiver: no suitcase packed for weeks-long trips on short notice, no more phone calls at all hours to solve medical issues. I feel an easing of stress in my life that I didn’t even know I had. I’m suddenly able plan ahead. My life is spreading out in front of me again, and I want to create my path with mindful intention. I am realizing what it is like to be a member of the Elder Generation in a family, with both the wisdom and the responsibility that that entails.
I have witnessed other deaths, but being with my father granted me a visceral education in mortality. My own cancer journey five years ago taught me that I will die, I just don’t know when. My father’s death taught me that everyone is going to go through their own dying process. This is a wonderful awareness, a glimpse of leaving that makes being here all the more beautiful.
I have a sign in my kitchen that says, “Isn’t it amazing how life is one thing, and in an instant it becomes something else”. It is amazing, isn’t it?