Death is not just for the dying. I learned this by watching my Father die right in front of me.
It was a profound experience and one that rocked me to the core. Death is profound. It is the final good bye, the end of what was. Grief and all the emotions that come with it is one of the most complex and beautiful processes a human can ever go through. If you’ve ever experienced grief, and most of us have, you don’t even need to be told this. There are endless articles and books written on the process which I find interesting. Death, dying and grief are as common and normal in life as breathing is, or a beating heart and there aren’t any books out there telling you how to beat your heart properly.
Why do we find ourselves so perplexed by it? I think it is because it takes us out of our little worlds, takes us out of the stories we live, and takes us out of what we think is true. – the things we can see, taste, hear and touch.
Grief affects that other sense we possess – intuition, gut, core feelings. Many of us struggle to come to terms with our own feelings on a day to day basis, never mind when crisis strikes.
So, why do I think that dying is for us as much as it is for those who are moving on? I think that answer will be different for every person who has a loved one die. But, I think it is a moment in our lives when we come face to face with our own mortality. How that affects you depends on you. To me, it brought me face to face my LIFE as a result of seeing DEATH. This makes me think of the ‘Ying Yang’ the true balance of life. Without cold, we wouldn’t know warmth, without dark we would not know light. Without death, we do not know life.
A super charge ignited deep within me when I watched the life drain from my father. And if I hadn’t have been paying attention, I might have missed it. It is subtle, it’s not a spectacle and could easily be drowned out by the stronger louder emotions of grief. I felt this spark though, and I looked into it as my emotions flatlined from the shock and pure amazement of watching a person I had known my entire life just disappear – right in front of me. His body was there, but HE wasn’t there. My father was a very animated man in life, even when sick. When he died, that animation left with him and the way his body looked will forever remind me how we are so much more than just the here and now and our bodies.
Death is not just for the dying. Death is a gift. A very sweet, simple, almost unnoticeable gift. If you can receive it you will be blessed with a deeper knowledge of yourself, your life force and what you are truly passionate about.
I found things I had lost about me in my 44 years of life in that moment my Dad died that I hadn’t even realized were missing. The word ‘profound’ that I used initially really doesn’t even cover the experience fully. It took me beyond this world, beyond my ‘story’ beyond my fears and beyond my deep loss. It really just took me right into the core of ME.
Death really isn’t just for the dying – it was for me, it was a gift my father gave me. And the best way for me to explain this further is to share my story of the day my father died with you. It is the most real, vulnerable and transparent I can be. I hope that it allows you to find that place within you as well – especially if you have been through, are going through or know you will experience the death of someone you love. I hope it brings you peace as you settle into the raw beauty of it all.
July 20,2015 – I watched my Father Die
My Father passed away yesterday afternoon around 1:20pm. I’m not sure the precise time since I wasn’t paying much attention to the clock.
I was there – I was just barely there. I had other plans for the day to celebrate My partners mom’s 80th birthday. Something deep within me told me that I needed to change those plans, and quickly. I’ve always been able to ‘feel’ things – the energy of people, what they feel, what they need. It’s something I’ve had to learn to live with and lean into as an Adult. On this day, I will never forget the feeling that overcame me driving down the road heading to another place for another planned outcome for the day. This feeling overwhelmed every part of me. So, I listened.
I’d been at bedside vigil for my Father since he went into Critical Care in the Hospital almost a month ago. I picked up my youngest daughter who happened to be in the area, ready to go, and feeling something happening deep within herself as well- and we went to the Hospital. I walked in and sat down and held his hand. His wife was on the other side of the bed holding his other hand. He was now in a very ‘unresponsive’ state. We had all recently decided in his lucid moments to stop any future intervention from the Hospital to prolong his life. These interventions had been causing him great pain. Many years ago, my Father and I had a talk about this day. He had asked me, seriously ( which if you knew my father didn’t happen too often, typically he was making a joke out of something, everything) he asked me to never let him suffer if he was dying. He said he wanted to die with dignity and not be hooked up to a Machine. I understood this request, and I understood why he was asking me to take responsibility for this. He trusted my ability to support him and give him what he needed rather than perhaps giving into my own fear of losing him and keeping him alive to keep me ‘safe’ – it was a great gift to be honoured with this – and the last month I’ve known that time had come and that I had to make that decision with his wife now. It was up to me and it both terrified me and blessed me.
The doctors had given him some drugs to ease the pain of the breathing once we decided once and for all to stop the breathing intervention machine. His Co2 levels were building up, his face was pale and his eyes were closed. Just the previous day he had been making jokes, being silly and jovial and being HIM – I was so amazed at the difference one day can make. As I held his hand with Anne, his wife, we talked to him. I was told that hearing is one of the last senses to go and that he could still hear us. For someone who loves to talk, sing, communicate – I found myself frozen. Not knowing what to say, how to say it, My voice didn’t work – not the one that wanted to communicate to him. I tried to not beat myself up about it and did the best I could. My daughter was by my side patting my back and playing with my hair ( something she knows relaxes me more than anything.) We carried on talking, laughing, planning who would be on the night vigil with Dad. And as we did this I was watching. His chest would rise, and drop. Laboured, but less raspy than when I first arrived. Rise and Drop. I started counting the seconds in between the drop and the rise. 1, 2,3,4,5, – rise. Each rise calmed my fear, each drop spoke to the wisdom within me that he needed to let go. Simultaneously, Anne and I said aloud to him that it was ok to go, we were ok, we wanted him to be at peace. We held his hands and told him to let go. The moment came and I felt my own breath dig deeper than I think it ever has, I breathed down into the deepest part of me. Rise and Drop. 1, 2, 3,4,5,6,7,8…..The rise didn’t come. I put my hand on his chest in that moment and said the only thing that came to mind “That is it…” The energy in the room at that moment was so powerfully calm and full of the height of the moment – you know those ones where you catch your breath and just suspend?
My daughter started crying, then Anne did and I just stared and stared. I was overwhelmed with the beauty and incredibly powerful moment I had just witnessed and had the blessings to be there for. The moment seemed to stretch into eternity, holding there, waiting. The three of us kept chatting anxiously, but with profound honesty. We all knew what was happening, we all wanted him to be at peace, we all instantly realized our own loss. It was a moment I will NEVER forget. He stayed in the room with us for a while, but not long. We all felt that too – he had wanted to get out of that hospital for days. While he stayed I still chatted with him internally and started telling Anne and my daughter what he was saying. He was happy, he was pain free, he was glad to finally be rid of the body that was holding him down. He had no fear, he wanted us to know he was totally in bliss. He then also said he was going to haunt Anne relentlessly – which truly could not have been said by anyone but him. If you knew him, you know what I mean. She of course laughed deeply and said that she welcomed it. Then, he was just gone from that room, he’d had enough. He went home to his Garden. Anne left shortly after. I lingered, unsure of how to process the first death I had witnessed along with the first loss of a parent – and one that I had been close to.
I lingered, and stared at the empty vessel in front of me. Amazed at the peace and a body that was empty of any energy at all. Eventually, with support from my daughter, my best friend and my life partner we exited the room and left the body of my Dad that I knew my whole life, behind. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The grief is deeper than I anticipated, the process surprisingly shocking since I had known this was coming. It has deeply affected me in so many ways. I feel blessed, I feel sad, I feel happiness for his peace and I feel profound loss. To all those who knew him, I hope this allows you a glimpse into his final moments. A way to honour and share your respect for him. To all those who didn’t know him, well, you missed out,he was a very good, kind man who struggled with demons, but overcame most of them in his lifetime. Thank you all for your support and kindness through this process. It is one breath at a time for me now.Blessings to you – and hold those you love close.
If you have your own story to share, I would love to hear it. Our stories will be as unique as we are. Individual, personal, powerful and deeply vulnerable. If you feel you can share your story publicly, please do in the comment section below. We all learn, grow and expand our awareness of ourselves when we share deeply.