The question: Can we grieve and heal better?

A blank slate is the image leaving my job brings to mind.

This time the blank slate is an open door, an opportunity that screams to me, to follow my gut, to dig deep into what I am passionate about. The moment of not being tied to place and occupation creates a sense of possibility to let the passion and inspiration bubble back to the surface. As I listen to myself, I realized I have often posed the question to others: what keeps you up at night? What drives you? I have gently nudged others to follow that voice that drives their passion.

I feel called to answer an important question: How can we grieve and heal better?

I am on, and have been on, a journey to answer this question. Perhaps “better” isn’t the right way to frame the question. Maybe it should be replaced with – differently, holistically, together – a multitude of words could fill the space inhabited by “better.” However, the sentiment displayed in “better” is that there is an opportunity to examine how we grieve, how we heal, how we feel loss now and in the future, how we remember and how we move forward with an eye towards making the process one of remembrance, strength, and dignity.

With these questions driving me, the next few months will be a journey in exploring answers, or at least, a journey in generating new questions. I plan to walk in the shoes of professionals from funeral directors, to spiritual leaders, to grief counselors. I plan to read the stories of those who are brave enough to share their stories – from war, to violence, to loss in its myriad of forms. I plan to meet with those working in humanitarian disaster and conflict zones. I plan to seek out those who have survived these complex situations. I plan to listen, digest, and learn how grief touches individuals and communities. I plan to soak up models of healing from different cultures, faith traditions, and communities.

There may be a gap in how individuals, families, communities, and societies are supported in the aftermath of violence, loss, grief, remembrance, and healing. The gap may not be obvious, it may be complex – and most likely, the gap may point to the heart of grief and healing. The simple fact that it is hard – it is painful – and it can alter the course of life. However, there may be opportunities to think about relationships and healing differently. To put community at the center of the grief and healing process. There may be a model for grief, remembrance, and healing that can cross cultures and varieties of traumas. Similarities in the need to celebrate life, to find a supportive way to grief, to create spaces for mourning may exist. These similarities may tie experiences of loss across communities, countries, and experiences. The human spirit may seek similar types of support in times of deep sadness, from Ferguson, Missouri to the outbreak of Ebola in Liberia to soldiers returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.

These questions are just the beginning.

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On Asking for Help

Of course it occurred to me that I could get hurt. At least it hypothetically has crossed my mind. I routinely take falls while rock climbing, secretly loving the post-fall high and not-so-secretly loving the inherent risk. But, if injury is the first thought in your mind while attempting the next move, it becomes paralyzing.  I am learning to suppress the fear and the urge to calculate all of the bad things that could happen. I often remind myself that bad things can happen at any moment, not just on a rock wall.

This sort of calculated, yet youthful ignorance in regards to injury, led to breaking my leg. I took a calculated risk while jumping off the bottom of a rope after climbing to the top, and either jumped too far or landed entirely wrong. Both leg bones broke, and the tibia broke in 7+ places. I didn’t know right away the extent of what had happened, but the noise was unmistakable, even though I had never heard it. Bones breaking make a very particular noise.

Injuries feel very fast at first. The actual trauma is fast, your brain focuses in on the two things that you need to deal with: figuring out what is wrong and how to get help. In the aftermath my brain can’t even remember actually jumping or how far it felt. Ambulance rides and emergency rooms are busy and quick, as you are passed between x-ray machines, CT scans, and doctors, while trying to keep your composure between pain and medication. There are decisions to be made and action to take. The real challenge of injury is when the emergency part passes, is that time slows down. Time slows all the way down.

I knew immediately that spending a month on the couch, with my leg positioned above my heart would be a challenge. The couch month would be followed by various months on crutches without using my leg. (read: no activity) Sitting still isn’t my strong suit. Slowing down also isn’t an activity I excel at. Yet, February required both. Beyond my own internal battle of whether or not I could stay on the couch, I needed help. It was humbling to have a friend and roommates help me change my underwear, help me figure out how to shower, make sure I ate, and the list goes on and on. It was humbling simply to watch friends spring to action – making dinners, visiting, calling, and sending care packages. Perhaps this forced slow time is a lesson in gratefulness for my friendships and community.

It has been a lesson in appreciation. On the day after surgery, I woke up in agony as the anesthesia wore off before the pain medicine took effect. Six hours of crying in pain reminded me that I am lucky to have not experienced this in 29 years and to be in a place and community where I have access to information, medication and health care. The past month has also been a time to appreciate stories. It seems, from all the stories of broken bones and surgeries I have been privy to, that the real danger is in more mundane, often times less risky moments. Stress fractures occur while running, people break ankles stepping off the curb wrong, and of course, people slip on ice and break all sorts of bones. I have heard stories and learned more about friends and their experiences of healing had I not been on my couch.

In many ways asking for help in this context has been much easier than grieving. I can only assume that grief has come to mind, since this month has called to mind other moments of needing help and relying on my community. First, it is easier to talk about what happened and the healing process with injury (in this context). There is an end. There is a time when everything will be “all better,” and thus friends don’t shy away from asking about it. The road to healing is less linear than with grief. With loss, the “all better” moment may never arrive, yet many moments where we can move on do arrive. The process cannot be charted on a calendar, as appointments to check bone healing can. Secondly, there are specific ways to help that make a big difference as they are difficult to accomplish on my own. Since I knew what I needed help with, I could ask for it. While grieving (and still) I often had no idea what would help.

Perhaps these experiences resemble comparing apples and oranges, yet the ability of a community to mobilize and be supportive has been a beautiful and appreciated parallel.  Not to mention the experience of asking for help, and constantly re-learning that it is okay to ask for help.

Handling grief via lists

I generally stay clear of how to lists related to grief and healing, as none of it in my own experience is linear. However, I believe Uma captures this non-linear sense of grief in her list 10 Ways to Cope with a Difficult Loss.

I especially like numbers 2 – 4:

2) Understand that grief is messy. Grief is often three steps forward, two steps back. Good days and bad days are part of the deal. If you’re having a particularly good week, don’t be misled into thinking that you’re over the worst of it.

3) Don’t fight your emotions. Sit with whatever comes up. The fact that you’re grieving hard simply means you loved hard. Honor your grief instead of running away from it.

4) Know that grief has no timetable. Don’t be in a rush; don’t let others rush you. Grief is not like weight loss where you see a predictable result if you put in the work. Don’t judge or compare your grief with another’s.

http://umagirish.com/2013/11/12/10-ways-to-cope-with-a-difficult-loss/

On Witnessing Death and the Calm that Follows

A few weeks ago, on November 30th, to be precise, I packed up a few birthday gifts and headed out to Maryland to visit my grandmother. I had seen her a few weeks before, for her 91st birthday celebration, while my mother and sister were visiting the east coast. She had moved to Maryland from her home in sunny Florida five years prior to be closer to my aunt as she got older.

 

I stopped along the way to her assisted living facility to pick up hot chocolate for us to share. At the entrance of the building, I greeted the woman at the front desk and took the elevator to her room on the fifth floor. The door was slightly cracked, so I pushed it open – and I felt the normal hot and humid climate of her room, which without fail caused me to doze off during every visit. She was stretched out on the couch and appeared to be asleep. I tiptoed to not wake her too suddenly. Yet, as I gently said “grandma, hello,” she didn’t respond to my voice. I gently touched her arm and face – my mind reaching to grasp the notion of what I was seeing, of what was happening. I put my fingers on her neck, attempting to take her pulse. Although she was warm to the touch, her arm already had a certain stiffness to it and I noted a blueish-purple color on her finger nails.

 

As I began to understand what was happening, my reaction was calm. No other reaction seemed possible while standing over her – her eyes closed and her lips in a soft smile. I was there to bear witness to her process of death and to be present in those moments. No need for hurried action crept into my mind.

 

The hours that followed were as one who considered the process of death expects. First, EMTs arrived to pronounce her dead, following by police officers to record reports of what happened. Meanwhile, the facility’s staff milled around telling me how much they enjoyed my grandmother and how they were surprised by my calmness. Their faces expressed that look – the one where people expect you to panic and sink to the floor sobbing at any moment, which to be fair – may be a more appropriate response. I made phone calls to family, first to my uncle, then to my mother. I oscillated between sitting on a chair next to her body, which was still on the couch and her bedroom as I fielded calls from family. It is important for people to hear the story of what happened, and in this case to hear that sense of peacefulness her death took on. For some reason, it felt inappropriate to discuss what was occurring with her body in the room, perhaps since it seemed too early to really process what had happened, while it was still happening. So, I closed the door to her bedroom, as if to not let her hear what I was talking about on the phone. I felt like I needed to keep the room as quiet and peaceful as possible.

 

After a few hours of silence, only interrupted by questions from police officers, the funeral home arrived to move her. I felt at once grateful that a system exists when someone dies, that you fall into. There is a process and people explain what is going to happen, which always feels comforting. On the other hand, the process feels impersonal (which makes sense, since the process is designed for everyone, therefore, it is not personal). The men from the funeral home removed her wedding rings, placing them in my care – and lifted her onto a gurney, which barely appeared difficult. Every few minutes someone asked me if I wanted to go in the other room or outside so I wouldn’t have to watch. Standing there, watching the processes of death take place seemed to be the least I could do. Shying away from the last moment with my grandmother and the last moments of her care, only felt like turning my back on her and a process that so many people do out of discomfort. It occurred to me strange that there are options for simply not being involved; for walking away. This decision of course varies based on the situation, and reminded me of the decision I made not to view my father’s body when I had the opportunity. Instead, I wanted to walk forward, to engage, in the logistics and the process of dying.

 

In my experience, death has this aura of why me? Why is this happening? How could this happen?. So many unanswered questions, which really don’t need or have answers, even though we search for them. Most of us will experience the loss of a loved one, and for many of us this will take place – if we are lucky – inside a care facility at the end of a long life. While, this experience, differed so much from the suddenness of my father’s death, I was left with much the opposite sense of that loss. Instead, I felt the pull of a voice that said yes, me, I should be here. After months of putting off visiting my grandmother one on one, I had finally made the trip that day and that specific time – only to walk in minutes after she passed away. The timing feels significant (but, so do so many things surrounding death), and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to witness the process and hopefully, be there for her for the last time.

“I hope the days come easy and the moments pass slow”

Aileen, Michigan

04 March 2012

 
My heart sank tonight.
 
I learned of a friend’s friend, who I’ve met once or twice, who went missing after a night out with friends this weekend – at the moment only his jacket recovered, in Lake Michigan. Reminiscent of an all too familiar situation. My heart, thoughts and whatever I deem a prayer goes out to his friends and family – I hope his story turns out to be one of joy.
 
It’s been five and half years since Luke died.
 
Five and half years. How has so much time passed already? My heart still hurts. Hurts for the life he didn’t get to finish living, hurts for the moments he’s already missed, hurts for Patti and Jerry, hurts for Ben and my other ‘brothers’, it still aches. By now, I think everyone has found a way to live with the void that he left – in some way or another. Not that it is easier or any less painful – you just get used to it. It’s like that Charles M. Schultz quote, “I think I’ve discovered the secret of life – you just hang around until you get used to it”. 
 
I don’t think that time heals all wounds – some are cut just too deep. Yes, there are ‘positive’ things that grew out of this situation – yet only because sometimes they have to. You have to attribute some meaning to something senseless, cruel and unfair. Feeling the connection and love I have for the Magic family and the people I grew up with grow, learning the lesson that at 22 I was not youthfully invincible – I was human, being incredibly lucky to have such wonderful people in my life, learning to tell my friends and family how much they mean to me every chance I get, realizing my life is a privilege not a right, needing to live it to its potential … I just wish Luke didn’t have to die for me to understand these things.
 
 
and Luke’s death hasn’t been the only one cut far too short – Paige, Christina, Darryl, Holly… Each one a reminder that life knows no rules, no fairness – it just is.
 
What is it? What is this one life we live? What does it matter? Is it cruel and unforgiving? Is it full of grace? Something in between?
 
Some people go their whole lives not realizing the preciousness of just breathing every day. It isn’t a given. We are guaranteed nothing but the moment in which we are living.
 
 
 
*I hope the days come easy and the moments pass slow

And each road leads you where you want to go

And if you’re faced with the choice and you have to choose
I hope you choose the one that means the most to you
 
And if one door opens to another door closed
I hope you keep on walkin’ ?til you find the window
If it’s cold outside, show the world the warmth of your smile
But more than anything, more than anything My wish for you
Is that this life becomes all that you want it to
 
Your dreams stay big, your worries stay small
You never need to carry more than you can hold
And while you’re out there gettin’ where you’re gettin’ to
I hope you know somebody loves you
And wants the same things too
Yeah, this is my wish
 
I hope you never look back but you never forget
All the ones who love you and the place you left
I hope you always forgive and you never regret
And you help somebody every chance you get

 
Every time I hear it. Miss you Luke.

“It is our shared stories that connect us. It is the common human experience that bonds us to each other.”

 

Uma Girish

www.umagirish.com

Waiting for Death

I walked into the room and there he was, in bed, his eyes tightly shut, mouth open, and his breath coming in gurgles. Just two days ago, I’d had a conversation with him, somewhat confused as it was.

“His mind wanders,” the hospice nurse had explained to me. “Could you sit with him for a half hour or so?”

As a hospice volunteer in the in-patient unit, I periodically visited patients and also spent time with family members, already grieving what was to come.

Wayne, who seemed to be in his sixties, told me he used to be a professor. We talked about his students, the papers he’d written, and his love of teaching. Every once in a while he’d want to go look for a non-existent brother. But for the most part he remained lucid.

Sixty years old. Too young to die, the world would say. That’s one phrase that has gone out of my vocabulary. In a world where newborns die and 105-year-olds wake up each morning and wait to die, it’s hard to know what’s “too young” or “too old.”

And now, just two days later, Wayne was in a coma and fast declining. In the dimness of the room, I saw a woman sitting by his bedside. She was almost swallowed by the shadows in the room. His wife, I thought to myself.

I inched closer to the bed. She looked at him, then at me, her eyes full of the questions every loved one wonders about, sometimes vocally, sometimes silently.

“Hi…I am a volunteer. We had a conversation just two days ago,” I offered as a conversation-starter.

“Yeah…I didn’t see this coming. He was here just to get his meds changed. He’s declining…real quick,” she whispered.

“He told me about his students, how much he loved teaching,” I said.

“That was pure joy for him.”

Her eyes filled up. “Come, sit down,” she gestured, pointing to a couch. I accepted.

For the next twenty minutes, she talked and talked and talked. She told me the story of how she and Wayne had met, their first date, their years together, shared joys. It struck me that theirs was a solid, safe marriage. And maybe one of the reasons was because there were no kids. They had had the time and the space to nurture the union.

As she talked, her voice cracked and she started to cry.

“What’s your story? How did you start to volunteer here?” she asked.

It was my turn to share the story of our move from India, the passing of my mother and, eighteen months later, my father. The memories triggered fresh tears. A box of Kleenex sat between us. We passed it back and forth, two complete strangers who were brought together by a moment of impending loss. We held hands. We hugged. We commiserated with each other.

It is our shared stories that connect us. It is the common human experience that bonds us to each other. It didn’t matter to her that she’d never known me until today. Most likely we’d never see each other again. But there was a vital spark of recognition—we were fellow passengers on the same journey and had meandered and stumbled through the terrain of anticipatory death (and actual death, in my case).

A good listener is all you need to be most of the time. A griever is looking for “a heart with big ears” as a friend of mine likes to say. Instead of rushing in with our own stories—and oftentimes we do that to show the other that we’ve been there too—it’s a good idea to let the other vent her sadness, anger or guilt. If invited, share your story. It is in those moments of vulnerability that we go beyond the superficiality of appearances and connect as souls.

“Relationships continue because love is profound and greater than death.”

Sunshine’s Smile was first published in the book, Women Celebrate: The Gift in Every Moment, and on Elizabeth’s website, www.ElizabethWelles.com. I am grateful for Elizabeth’s openness to share her story here.

 

Sunshine’s Smile

by Elizabeth Welles

After my dad passed on, I missed him excruciatingly, so you can imagine my joy when nine days after he died, he came to visit in a dream. Now my father — one of the most honest and compassionate people I’ve ever known, didn’t believe in an after-life, so he wasn’t the kind of person to come back to me in a dream to tell me something if it wasn’t true, and he came in humorous ways. I would say something to him and he’d answer back and have me laughing.

It was Easter Sunday, the day we were spreading his ashes. We didn’t plan for that day specifically it just worked out that way. My father’s Jewish, but I liked the day, the resurrection of dad, and it meant something to me. Early morning, in the dream-state, my father was laughing and smiling. “If I only knew about this eternal life stuff,” he said, just like that, “Like it would have been so much easier, who would have known. I saw Grandma, (my mother’s mother,) the dogs, (her dogs) even Tippy,” (one of her earlier dogs that died something like twenty years before.) He was chuckling over all the things we think and do around death. He looked well, happy and real relieved.

Dreams continued quite consistently through that first year. In another he said, “If you want, I’ll help you with your writing, even every afternoon. I can help you with your writing, beautiful words, but you have to make an appointment because I’m very busy.” He was happy to help, but he wasn’t going to push anything on me, even in life he wasn’t a pusher of his ideas. In the dream, I found myself wondering, “Does he know he’s dead?” Telepathically he heard my question and answered out loud in a funny, off-handed way, “Yes I know I’m dead, but I’m not dead, and yes I know I’m not in the body, but I am in the body, right now, for you.” A dear friend of my Dad’s, who passed on six weeks after my Dad, came into the dream too. This friend had a heavier and more encumbered body when he lived on the earth. In the dream he walked into the house huffing and puffing from carrying all these packages. He looked at my Dad and telepathically voiced, “Oh boy, it’s one helluva thing being back in these bodies,” and they both giggled like little kids. It wasn’t their number one priority — to be back in the body, but they were happy to do it for us right now.

I use to hear songs in my head totally out of the blue. I’d hear Stevie Wonder’s “You are the sunshine of my life.” Then one day I was in NYC walking the streets. It was a gray day and I was feeling low, really missing my Dad, when I heard . . . “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are gray, you’ll never know Dear, how much I love you, please don’t take my Sunshine away.” I looked around to see if anyone was singing, I listened to hear if this song was playing anywhere nearby, I even peered into a store or two. And I’m thinking, “Dad?” My Dad loved music, loved concerts, classical and jazz, which I finally have begun to also love and appreciate, but the sunshine songs?

When he was very ill in the hospital he hadn’t eaten for what seemed like weeks. One day he asked me for an apple.
I said, “Apple juice?” He shook his head no.
I said, “Apple Sauce?” He shook his head no.
He said, “Apple.”
I said, “Oh an apple.”

I happen to have brought a fresh apple from the house that day and had it in my bag. I ran to the nurse’s station, got a knife and cut off a small portion of the apple, and from that portion I cut about seven tiny, baby-bird bite size pieces about half the length of a small pinky nail.
I began feeding these bird-size bites to my Dad, and as I was feeding him I said, “Here’s a bit of sunshine Daddy, here’s another little bit of sunshine.”

All I could think of was the sun shining down and nourishing these apples, making them healthy and whole, and of the sun shining through my father’s whole body with each little bite. After about four bites, he put up his hand like a King and said, “It’s all in,” like he had just consumed the most sumptuous feast and was plentifully satisfied. Later as I held the urinal for him and his pee hit the side of the jug, he said, “Gravity, it’s all in the gravity.”

My father finally came home from the hospital for another six weeks of life. The day we took him home, one of the nurses came to us to tell us that none of the nurses had expected my Dad to leave the hospital. They use to come in each day, and say, “Oh Dan’s still here!” The nurse felt it was a tribute to the family’s care that he was leaving that day.

A week or so after we arrived home, we received a call from Marianne, a three-time cancer survivor herself who had started an organization to help people with cancer, and their families. What we didn’t know was that she had stood in the doorway weeks earlier observing the apple interaction with Dad.
“I’m coming over, I have a present for you and your Dad,” she said.
“What is it?” I asked.
“I’m not telling you, it’s a gift.”

I was on my way out for an appointment, but I waited. She arrived and we unwrapped the gift. My Dad’s lying in bed with friends and family around, and she takes out this beautifully sculptured ceramic man with a yamaca on his head, and a big bowl he holds in his lap with a little lid that comes off. On the bowl is written the words, “Bits of Sunshine for Daniel.” She said she was so moved by what she saw that she told an artist friend of hers who did this sculpture for us. The only requirement was that it had to sit where my father could see it. My father beamed, remarking, “Oh, she’s still feeding me Sunshine.”

The Tuesday before my Dad passed on, my mother and I took a break. My brother came over and watched my Dad for the evening, and my mother and I went to see Spalding Gray, the actor and monologist. When I came home, I told Dad about the performance and he said, “Why don’t you be a storyteller,” and he suggested I do it in California. I went upstairs and in the shower thanked God and my Dad, because it was one of the greatest gifts he could give me—to say pursue your dreams, do what you love, write, act, tell stories.

My Dad passed three days later, early Friday morning. The night before he died I remembered a dream I had of him weeks earlier. In the dream he was slipping down from his chair, and I was trying to pick him up. I called a friend in the dream and said, “Tiny, he’s slipping away.” Well the day before he died was just like that dream. He was propped in a chair. I held his feet as each of us breathed. I breathed in, he breathed out. He breathed in, I breathed out. I was holding the feet of a Buddha, practicing breath, aware of our connection in the moment, and practicing for when we would breathe and receive each other’s presence from “different” worlds. Later in the day, I was alone with him trying to make him comfortable, trying to help him sit up. I had eight pillows and two bolsters in back of him and he was still sliding down for he had absolutely no body strength. I called a friend that night from the bathroom with the door closed so I could cry and cry, and I said, “He’s slipping away.”

Friday morning came too early and my mother came upstairs to call me to help with my Dad. The night before she told me that he talked all night and at some point he said, “NO, NO, NO,” and then “Okay, Okay.”
I went outside, pointed my finger at the sky, and said, “If we can’t keep him, then you take him with the greatest of love, peace, freedom, joy and enlightenment, and you better serve him well!!!”

I went back inside and stroked his head, telling him he was beautiful and loved, how much we loved him, to focus on the love and his own natural rhythm, his own natural grace. At one point he reached out in front of him, like he was reaching for something and he said, “Where are we?” We said, “We’re at home, you’re in bed.” Really I would like to have asked, “Where are you?” He reached out — and this was a man with no physical body strength left. He was trying to speak to us but it was hard to understand because he didn’t have much saliva in his mouth and so I swabbed his mouth to get some moisture in it, his teeth locked, we got the swab stick out finally. My mother had gone to call my brother. She came back and said she didn’t really know what to tell him, so I left to call him. I don’t know why we kept leaving the room, there was a phone right there, but I guess we were being polite though it’s funny, none of us had any illusions at this point, and he knew he wasn’t getting better.

I told my brother to come soon because it would be soon. My mother screamed for me just as I got off the phone. I hadn’t been gone but for a minute or two. I ran and my Dad’s eyes were open looking at my mom’s but the expression was gone, they were blank, his last view was of her, and then he closed them. My mother kept saying, “Danny, you’re not breathing, Danny, Danny, you’re not breathing,” then she turned to me, “What should I do?”
“Call Ricky,” I said, and she left the room.

I jumped on the bed next to my Dad and while she was gone he took his last two breaths. If you’ve ever seen a person die, it can be rather dramatic or violent looking, not all the time, but sometimes. He took two deep gasping sighs. His whole body stiffened, his eyes rolled back, and then his eyes closed and his body relaxed. I was glad I was the only one to see that because to be honest I don’t think anyone else in my family would want to have seen it, and I guess I wanted silence for my Dad, complete silence. I didn’t even touch the body, I just wanted him to be free to leave without anyone pulling on him, I wanted him to have the greatest moment he could have for that enlightenment, that birth into Spirit. I remember thinking, “I didn’t think it would be like this.” It was so quiet, such silence in the room, and then after awhile I put my hand above his crown to feel his energy moving out, but I didn’t feel anything. I’m sure he wanted to get out from his tired body as fast as he could, and so sky-rocketed out. I remember thinking I probably wouldn’t even cry if my mother came back to the room and wasn’t crying, but she was, and then I started.

My brother was there in an instant. He told his four-year old son, Jeremy, to stay in the living room while he came in and cradled over the body with my mom. I went outside to pick grapefruit blossoms, then my brother brought his son in to kiss Papa’s forehead one last time, like he did the night before when my father still breathed, the only time that day when my dad had smiled. My sister-in-law came over and then my beautiful nephew, started handing out hats for everyone, including Papa. I appreciated Jeremy’s ever-joyous nature and innocence, and yet as he put a beret on Papa’s now silent head all I could think of was that movie, “Weekend at Bernie’s,” and I was like, get the hat off. My father loved berets and I’m sure he appreciated the moment. In fact there was a lot of humor that morning, along with the tears. My sister-in-law took Jeremy to school and my mother and brother turned to me and asked what I wanted to do. We took my Dad’s pajama top off, wrapped him in a big white sheet. I oiled his chest with a touch of scented oil, and lit a candle that would remain lit for the next two-and-a-half days. While we put the sheet around him I got under him and lifted him up, to get his shirt off, like I so often did in his last weeks and days. I said, “He’s so heavy,” My mother said, “There’s a word for that,” and all I could think of was, “Deadweight?” Then his eye winked open and I said, “Look he’s winking.” We placed a column of flowers on his chest from his belly to his neck. My brother picked some flowers from the garden, my mother used the rose in bloom next to the bed, and I had the white fragrant grapefruit blossoms.

My Dad left the body with his mouth open, perhaps it was those two gasping breaths. In any event, my mother kept saying, “Won’t you close your mouth Danny? Won’t you close your mouth?” And when I picked him up his mouth did close — for a second, but when I put him back down his mouth opened again. My brother and I said, “Mom he’s not going to close his mouth,” but she persevered. After a while we were all out of the room at the same time. I was in the driveway with the hospice nurse who finally arrived and it was incredibly windy, unusually windy, when suddenly I heard my mother calling me, “Come look, come see Daddy’s smile, come see Daddy’s smile.”

My mother gets very enthusiastic sometimes, so I was thinking yeah, yeah, okay, when I’m done here. When I walked back into the room I could say it was a beatific smile that was on my Dad’s face, but it was simply my dad’s smile, which was beautiful to us. My brother and I huddled together and kind of said, “That’s daddy’s smile, that’s daddy’s smile!” My mother said he heard us, and when we all left the room, his spirit came back into the body for a moment to close the mouth into his smile to say, everything’s Ay-Okay. My brother and I looked at the body, turning to each other at times to say, “looks like he’s breathing.” Even though he left the body, there was still so much life.

We kept the body with us for seven hours and it was a most comforting time. We talked to my dad, kissed him, and lay down beside him; the body was still warm. My sister-in-law sat by the bedside at one point, and said, “I know it sounds morbid, but can’t we stuff him and keep him here?” It was that comforting. I did ask my mother if we could keep him a bit longer, but she said, “If we keep him any longer, we’ll have him for the whole weekend.” (I guess I wouldn’t have minded, feeling close to the Buddhist’s three-day tradition of keeping the body.) My mother gathered my brother and I in the kitchen. She put her arms around us. Even with the obvious sadness and tears, she said she felt Joy. I believe it was my father’s joy that touched her. He was soaring through the clouds.

I finally called a dear friend to tell her that my dad had passed, and she returned the call several hours later. She said, “I’ve got to tell you something. I was outside very early this morning, it was about the time your dad passed, and I hadn’t received your call yet. I closed my eyes to sort of connect with your family and your dad, when I heard the most dignified and strong voice. It said, “This is Daniel. This is Daniel.” I wondered what this was about, and then I realized it was Daniel, your father. He said, “Tell my most precious daughter I love her so very much, she has done so much for me. I am so glad you are coming; she needs you now. Tell her I am fine and she is going to be fine.” My friend wondered was she making this up, she hadn’t ever “channeled” before, or ever even tried. But then she got home, heard my phone message and knew. She lay down for a moment and reconnected, “Anything else?” She asked. He reiterated what he said, and then added, “Tell her I am with her, tell her I am not leaving her.” He got out of the body as fast as he could and flew to my friend, whom he had never met, but knew I was close with, to give her that message.

My dad and I have this deep soul connection, a loving bond that includes and included a tremendous respect for our differences and a genuine acceptance of who we are as people. All of us, in this Universe, interface with each other much more than any of us ever really know or perceive, in life and in the “hereafter.” And in that place, that is beyond what we ordinarily “know,” there is humor, peace, joy and love. My dad’s been with me ever since, as he has been with a whole lot of people, and the relationship continues. It’s something few talk about, but many know. Relationships continue because love is profound and greater than death.