My story of my father's passing; love and courage, of acceptance and gratitude.
|I whispered gently into my father's ear; and as I did, I felt the slow rise and fall of his frail chest. The alien-like rattling sounds of his strained breathing punctuated the air, and with each exhalation a heart-wrenching reminder that he was in the final hours of his life. For three days I hadn't left the hospital; I remained glued to his bedside, at first listening with wide-eyed intention as my dad lovingly and humorously recounted special memories and moments. Although pain fought furiously to claim his body, it didn't initially possess his incredible mind and spirit. Dad's eyes still managed to twinkle, the deep embers aglow, impassioned. The same sparkle that shone brightly when he'd sing Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye or Elvis. Never the proper song lyrics, but a bespoke version of his own, usually to comfort one of us children.
Those days of Danny Kaye songs sung by a youthful and unburdened young father were long gone. It was hard to reconcile that the frail and gnarled body of the old man had once been a wilful and exuberant young boy. He had been rambunctious, precocious with the life force of a young buck. Sitting in the non-descript white-walled hospital room; it was hard not to be sucked into the crippling vortex of all-consuming loss and grief. That fall would come later. Yet, we didn't. We simply skated around its precipice. Instead, I laughed and sang through my tears and snot, sharing precious moments with my family. Some sat on the periphery, too confronted by the sight of a once magnificent man now confined to the frail and twisted body before them, while others like me simply needed to be within body warmth distance, holding his warm and still pudgy hands. Hands that had loved me, changed my nappy as a young baby, taught me how to ride a bike, taught me how to catch my first fish. Hands that had changed the world, hands that had wiped away his own tears of loss and trauma. Hands that had toiled hard, struggled, and at times gone hungry. They were hands that had never given up, and even in the fading hours, they remained beautiful, strong, and eternal. I didn't want to miss a split second or a mere moment. I wanted to bask in my dad's fading yet glorious warmth and light, trying desperately to chase away the encroaching darkness… his imminent death. Soon, the times of wakefulness gave way to sleep, deep gentle, but unshakable sleep. During these times, when all others had gone home, be it for one loving loyal sister and her husband, we sang gently to his resting body. We recounted stories, we held him all through the night, falling asleep askew in the hospital chairs. Waking with sore necks and backs, bad breath and hunger pains. Still, we sang his favourite hymns, we walked further along the path of his end of life. We did so with incredible humility, respect, love and compassion, even with joy. Although our hearts were shattering into a million little pieces, our love for our dad, held us together. He deserved it.
By the third night, we all witnessed my parents' incredibly gut-wrenching goodbye, as mum walked through the hospital doors, without turning around, for the sight before her, was simply too great to bear. Especially given that she had already buried a son and a daughter within the last 6-months. It had been a rough time for all, especially my parents. I will never forget that moment, that look and that love. My dad had found the energy to sit upright, reach out for my mother's hand and declare his love "Mare, you know you've been the only women I have ever loved" to which she replied "Oh Anthony, my darling I know, and you have been the only man I have ever loved" they embraced, through the intolerable pain. All my family witnessing that moment, love and dignity. It was beyond word ... it was magical but in the most heart-wrenching ways.
As time passed and the early hours of morning loomed nervously, I gently encouraged my sister and her husband to leave, “sweetheart, he is holding on because you are here, you're the baby of 10 kids and he loved you so dearly, I think perhaps if you leave, he may simply let go" To which she replied through swollen grief-stricken eyes, something inaudible. She longed to get home to the comfort and familiarity of her own bed and young children. My sister had been a god-send to my dad, taking him from appointment to appointment. They loved each other fiercely. I watched as she gathered up all her things, the weariness and trauma in her every protracted movement. I watched as they kissed dad goodbye for the final time, and they both mustered up the inhuman strength and courage to walk through the door. My heart ached for them both, I felt their pain, I knew their pain. We were one.
The darkened room didn't feel sad or lonely. It wasn't ominous. I can't explain it, I felt an incredible sense of calm and peace. I snuggled up to my father, resumed my gentle singing, applied more essential oils to his temples and hair. I breathed in sync with my dad, no longer afraid of the death rattle, no longer afraid of the darkness. I fully embraced the fading light, the love and the journey. I poured every ounce of my being into holding his hand, speaking gently, telling him "dad it's okay for you to let go, your parents, your brothers and 2 sons and your beautiful daughter are all waiting for you" … I sang more hymns, all the years of being dragged to church helped. Although no longer a practising Catholic or Christian, I honoured my dad's faith, my dad's journey. I knew for him his faith was everything, and funnily enough, 3 priests came by to do the last rites. Each unaware of the others' visits.
I sat quietly, my voice and singing gently filling the room for a few more hours. In the darkened room I gently whispered: "Dad I give you until 7 am, once 7 am comes around, I think it's time for you to let go, and go home, you've lived a remarkable life, it's time to let go and suffer no more". I didn't cry at all at this time, as I knew there was so much love in the room, I knew that for the last few hours my dad had been transitioning from this world, and his life journey to his next journey. I felt calm, I felt intense love and purpose. I felt like a conduit of love, between my dad and his family and his guiding spirit. My sole focus, or should I say 'soul' focus was assisting my father with having a death befitting the man he was.
The energy in the room started to change, there was less urgency to sing, and a growing sense of simply sitting with him, laying against his side and holding him. Soon the singing stopped, and I gently laid my head upon his pillow. Warm skin against each other, I closed my eyes for a second and it was then that his distressed breathing stopped. Sitting upright, I held his face, cheek-to-cheek, I held him close as his last three breaths left his exhausted body. My dad had passed at 7:05 am. He always had to have the last say.
I sat, kissed him a million and one times, and heard a deep primal cry fill the quiet room. It was me. I sat, not moving… I needed to be with him, a little longer. I eventually dragged my tired body up, begrudgingly opened the hospital room doors, making eye contact with the doctor and said, "my father has passed".
I stayed with his body, while the nurses dressed him, and the wardsman came to collect him for the morgue. I somehow managed to find the quiet confidence to say, "please honour my father's body with dignity and respect, for although his body is frail, he has the spirit of a lion". And with that, I walked out of the room into the cold hard stark reality of a busy hospital, strangers unaware of the journey, of my journey. I could go on and recount the next steps, the next moments of a narcissistic family member as she manipulated the situation, but I won't for in the scheme of things it doesn't matter.
All that matters is that after not sleeping and just holding my father as he passed, I drove myself home. I just needed to see my mum. I just needed to let her know that her husband, my father had passed and that it had been remarkably sacred and special. He knew love till his last breath, and I am certain he was met on the other side, with incredible love. Holding my father as he passed, irrevocably changed me, and I felt incredibly blessed to have shared such love. To be both loved, and to be able to love so deeply and so fully. That night I snuggled up to my mother, holding her as she fell asleep, and the smell of dad was still on the sheets. We awoke both at the same time, 24 hours to the minute he passed, both feeling his energy in the room.
My story doesn't end there, but out of respect for the energy of this story I will end it here, as what follows is a sad and twisted tale of narcissism and abuse, manipulation and complex trauma. It is a story of finding myself through the maelstrom and realising that no one has power over us unless we allow them to. My dad had been my moral compass, and for that, I am eternally grateful, as he was a man of authenticity, compassion and integrity. One day I will write his life story, sharing with the world the memories of a remarkable man. My dad, Anthony, or Tony as he liked to be called.