Saturday, December 22, 2007

Fatherless Christmas

This is a fatherless Christmas. My dad passed away at about 3:40PM on Friday, October 5, 2007. I know the time of death because of the strange way I learned of his passing. I had spent several hours every day for more than a week with my father as he crept toward death. And I was exhausted. I had left him about noon time, so I could get lunch and see clients. My mom was with him as were the hospice nurses, so he wasn’t alone in his room, and he was receiving excellent care.
I had a break between people, and I could just feel the tiredness in my body weighing on me So, taking advantage of the hour I had, I folded my arms on my desk, put my head down, and drifted off into the deepest sleep imaginable. I was focusing on my breath, how it rose up though my chest and into my throat and nose and gently flowed back through my body. It was total relaxation. A perfect peace.

“You gotta wake up!!”

Whoa! Whoa! What was that? It was a voice in my head sounding the alarm that my next client was due to arrive, and I needed to move out of Blissville and wash my face and prepare for her session. The clock read 3:40PM.
Moments after I’d splashed water on my eyes, my phone rang. It was the hospice nurse. My father had died minutes ago. My mother had left to go shopping, but was on her way back to the assisted living facility and didn’t yet know that her husband of 53 years was gone.

“OK. I’ll be there shortly!”

I found one of my chiropractic colleagues coming down the hall.

“I’m leaving. My father has died. My client is on her way, and I don’t have a cell phone number for her to tell her what’s going on…”

“Go, go, go” she said. “We’ll take care of your client.”

When I arrived at my father’s room, I saw his body still dressed in the “Happiness is a Labrador Retriever” shirt I and the hospice nurse had put on him the night before. No attire could have been better suited for my dad’s final hours. He adored dogs. I once joked with him that he would have been happier if we had placed him in a kennel than at Alterra Clare Bridge.
“Only if the dogs would have me!” he said, smiling.
Now, here was the shell of my father, his right arm still stuck in the paralyzed position of elbow bent, and fingers curled. His mouth was open the way it often had been so he could breathe. I got close to him and looked into his half-opened eyes. Those beautiful blue orbs that would gaze with such love upon my mom were almost gray looking. It was as if his spirit had turned the lights out in this house before taking off to wherever it was going.
I think that’s quite possibly what did happen. And as his spirit took off to go to his next destination, he stopped by my office to find me sleeping, and did the ol’ Bud Gage rapping on the door with the “Time to get up!” command that always used to follow. I woke up in that moment in the physical sense of opening my eyes and washing my face. Now, many weeks later, I’m onto another wake up call in a more spiritual sense with increasing interest and curiosity about matters of faith and the gift of having a life that I can live.

I know that, looking at my father’s dead body, I recognized it as “him” in that it was the flesh and bones that defined to my eyes that “this is dad”. But without the soul present in the body, the man I knew as my father had moved out, and this body was now vacant. Life, as we define it, was gone from him. Where exactly his spirit went to, I have no idea. Will I see him again in this world…maybe as a black lab with blue eyes….I really can’t say for sure. Personally, my vision of my father this holiday is that he’s just now coming off the beach having played with his many dog pals and enjoyed a good swim in the chilly ocean waves. He’s working the water out of his ears. And soon he’ll be heading off to find Charles Dickens reading “A Christmas Carol”. Wherever he is, my dad is happy, he’s free, and he’s good. Just the kind of after life he should have!

Merry Christmas.


MCG said...

How do you keep on making me want to read your essays, that I think should be compiled and sold in book form. You have told me this and when it is in print it is so very powerful.


Dede Spontak said...

I am moved to tears....and filled with love. Thank you Susan. Dede

SCG said...

Thanks to both of you. I'm surprised that I'm not more sad about my dad at this time of year, but my image of his after life has mitigated any feelings of remorse. In some ways, it felt sadder for me during the time of his decline because I knew things were only going to get worse for him, and there was nothing I or anyone could do. My strong sense is that he is experiencing immense joy. I don't know where, and I can only imagine how, but I hope it's true. And, if it turns out to be pure fantasy, so what. It's my fantasy and it's one that places my dad where I know he's happiest. Love and merry, merry to both of you!

stevie said...

Thank you for the writing... so powerful and so comforting as many of us deal with holidays without parents (recent or long ago)... I bet my mom was at the beach too - laughing at the dogs romping in the waves with your dad... what a great image for me!!

TG said...


I tried to post on your blog and it didn't work. So here's what I have to say: "Merry Christmans and shut up goddamit!".

Love, TG

SCG said...

Ah, yes: The title of our Gage Family Christmas Album...using a quote from the Judge himself!