This is my tribute, in loving memory, to my father:
'Death is an angel with two faces:
To us he turns
A face of terror, blighting all things fair;
The other burns
With glory of the stars, and love is there.'
~ Theodore Chickering Williams
On 9/9/10, after 87 years, and a brave struggle with a chronic disease, my father died and passed on into a better world. I was honored to be present, along with my sister and brother at his passing. He slipped away in the most peaceful fashion of any that I have seen; yet a sparkle in his eyes persisted up until the almost final moments of his life.
His life was a normal, non-special one, full of ups and downs. Like all of us, I know he had events for which he was not proud, but at the end of this earthly journey, he was at peace with himself, at peace with God and at Peace.
He was well loved around the retirement community, where both he and my mother lived. It seemed that he touched many with his life. In loving memory, gratefulness for my father was expressed repeatedly to my family in the services for him. His love for God and respect for all people was apparent.
I had struggled to make the decision to fly home to Pennsylvania, from my current home in Colorado. I had just seen my father several months earlier, after a new round of treatment had begun. While reports on my father’s status from the local siblings had taken a different tone, I couldn’t be sure that he was ready to give up the fight. He had fought many bouts of illnesses in his life, prior to this one, and it was not clear if he was ready to give up his spirit yet.
But, I flew home, in spite of the unknowing, to support my local sisters and to further assess the situation. I purchased a one-way airline ticket, into the unknown.
The synchronicity of events that had occurred in my life, that led me to my father’s bedside hours before the passing, continue to astound me.
I had been a traveling nurse in Northern New Mexico for the prior two years, a far distance from any major airport. Just recently, my husband accepted a contract job back in Denver. While nursing work was available, I decided that I was going to take my time getting back to it. I was content, allowing my husband and the Universe to support me for a while, as I focused on my website.
I had encountered death many times in my recent in-home assignments and I had begun to get a complex about the frequency with which I was being assigned to dying clients. I expressed this phenomenon to my co-nurses, working on the same cases, and was dubbed the 'angel of death.' This impacted me, as I provided comfort to client after client in their final days. But I just felt OK with it as I tried to stay present to the needs of the dying and their families.
So on the day prior to my father’s passing when I finally clicked the ‘buy’ button on the one-way electronic airline ticket, more synchronicity came into play, to lead the 'angel of death' home in time. The flight I chose from Denver to Philadelphia was a direct one, leaving early in the morning. I chose this instead of the one-stop that was almost half the price (which I would have normally chosen, being the frugal one). I did this, thinking, oh well, it's just money, and I don’t want to hassle with an all day flight. (Also very unusual thinking for me). My direct flight allowed an arrival much earlier than the flight connecting through another city.
I arrived at about 3 pm in the afternoon, to find my father asleep in his bed. He had just been transferred from the hospital to the care facility several hours before, and my sister, waiting for my arrival, stated the move had tired him immensely. He had been napping all afternoon. She relinquished his care to me.
'I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.' ~ Psalms 121
I did not know at the time that I was to arrive at my father’s bedside, less than four hours prior to his passing. I will never forget the look of pleasant surprise, as I leaned over his bed, grabbed his hand and said, “Hi Pops, it’s Elle.” He was in bed, resting, and as he opened his eyes, his face immediately brightened with a warm smile and his sparkling eyes greeted me.
No words were uttered, as his voice was almost gone. He was too weak to speak. Then his look changed from pleasant surprise to one of tender love, more precious than words. In loving memory, I will cherish that look for as long as I live.
I leaned over and gently held his face. I kissed him and whispered, “I love you.”
In the final hours, I offered him sips of water, which he gladly took, as his mouth was so dry. When he would awaken, his eyes still sparkled with love and attention, but he quickly relapsed into a restful state, eyes closed, whenever the stimuli was removed. As I look back, in loving memory, I knew that he was transitioning to a better place.
Another sister and a brother arrived. They were present with me in the final minutes of my father’s life. I would send non-verbal signals to my sister, which she immediately understood, that we were approaching the final moments of his life. She peacefully sat at my father’s side, holding and stroking his hand. My brother sat on the other. I hovered over them all.
As the shadows fell across his once sparkling eyes, and the final breaths were forming on his lips, he drifted off, never to return to his earthly presence. As his soul departed, a great relief filled my heart that he was finally at peace, at home and without pain and suffering.
During the family gatherings surrounding my father’s passing, I shared my grief with a brother, 10 years my senior. I verbalized the burden that I felt being the 'angel of death,' only this time for my father. Without hesitation, he said, “You are not an angel of death, but an angel of mercy.”
My brother’s words brought immeasurable comfort to me. I knew I had done all I knew how to make my father’s last moments as comfortable as possible. In loving memory I will cherish these last moments of his life.
Could it have been that the prior years spent with the dying had been a preparation for this event for my own family? That my tenderhearted sister, normally squeamish about death, could remain present through the final moments? That I was able to communicate to my family what was occurring in the final moments?
The answers to all my questions are, “yes.” In loving memory I will always be able to find comfort in the fact that I was honored to be there for my family.
As I left to fly back to Colorado, my sister pulled out a package for me. In the package was a beautiful, little wooden angel and a card that said, “You are indeed an angel of mercy.” In loving memory of my father, tears again filled my eyes, knowing that I had fulfilled a higher purpose.
And on this beautiful, clear September morning, days after his passing, I sit on my deck and gaze at the splendor of the Universe. In loving memory, my thoughts turn to my father. Once again, in the stillness, I experience my grief.
But my tears soon turn to joy, as I consider all that I am as a result of my father’s life. I am so grateful to him that he taught me his love of the outdoors. He taught me to always see my glass half-full. He taught me how to live a Spirit-filled life. Most important of all, in his final moments, with steadfast dignity, he even taught me how to die.
In loving memory, a dear friend's family, standing around his bedside in the final minutes of his life, sang the final song that he heard. He was alert, and very present when he listened to this old, old hymn:
When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll.
Whatever my lot Thou hast taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”
It was and is well, in his soul. And all is well in my soul. In this moment, in loving memory, may you all feel the universal spark that was and is the spirit of my father.
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