For our last three years of father-and-daughter life on this planet, Daddy and I talked daily to be as close as we could be. Our time together was coming to an end. We didn’t know when that would happen; we just knew it was coming sooner than we wished. And then came the news: “There is nothing more we can do.”
Daddy didn’t feel like dying. He felt full of life and longing to live. He had more to do, more to say, more to feel, to taste, to write, to experience. He was angry and sad, disappointed and confused, scared and brave, unaccepting and, finally, accepting.
Facing the end of his life, Daddy courageously asked each of his children for completion and readiness for his release. He was himself a writer of memoirs in his final decade, and in those moments of drawing near to death, he encouraged me to write about and share the story of what we were experiencing together. I assured him that I would “pick up the pen where he left off.”
He passed while I held his hand, talked and sang to him. In those moments between his last breath and my realization that it was, I felt many things—sorrow, relief, surprise, wonder—and also gratitude and peace that his struggle to live and die all at the same time was over. I was so grateful to be present and say to him, “Daddy, you will always be with me, and I with you. My heart and your heart are one. Thank you for your endless love. Thank you for being the very best dad I could ever have.”
Several weeks after he died, I began to feel very intense grief, an unexpected tidal wave of sorrow, anger and feelings of abandonment. Writing, as I painfully accepted and integrated my father’s physical absence from my life, made me feel just a little bit better. I continued to write more and to feel better and eventually produced a short memoir about his End of Life from my perspective. Honoring his suggestion, I published a little book to share with others.
There is great pain inherent in the loss of a loved one. I sure felt it, and sometimes still do! It is also possible to find unexpected humor, deep connection, healing of past wrongs and loving support of all kinds, from within your own mind and heart and from caring acquaintances. When you let others know what you need, you can better take care of you. After a loved one passes, you are the one who needs care!
Many ask me what I learned from this profound experience and how I might advise others. While I hesitate to give any “cookie cutter” advice, I recommend preparing to be-with the dying and the bereaved. Being present and open to this new experience was the greatest gift I could give to myself and to my dad. Writing about my experience and my feelings was so helpful; I encourage you to do that too.
My dad’s passing, as hard as it was to accept, was the best I could imagine. Now, connecting with grieving individuals, bereavement workers, hospice and palliative care centers around the world is something I do day by day, thanks to the Internet. I find new purpose as I integrate my sorrow and channel it in a way that inspires others too. This connection is a life-giving opportunity and a “blessed” experience for me.
I am honored to write about our story and hope that it may touch you, help you integrate your own loss and open to new hope. I welcome your comments.