Saturday, October 4, 2008

"No Fear and No Regrets"

The other day, I was sitting on the deck of the Black Dog Café enjoying one of those perfect Tallahassee days where the sun is out, but it’s not so humid that you feel like you’re living in a greenhouse. The café sits by Lake Ella, a man-made storm water run-off pond that the city has made into a downtown lake, where people jog, walk their dogs, and feed the ducks.

As I sat, sipping my Italian soda, I noticed a man who I guesstimated was in his early 30s, pushing an older man in a wheelchair. Some paces behind this pair was a woman, also in that 20-30 year-old age bracket, walking behind a baby stroller, her child looking out in the direction of the lake with its ducks and turtles. The image, for me, spoke of generations all in one place, and the cycle of life, from infancy to old age, and the many of us in that middle stage where we care for our young…as well as the elderly in our families.

I reflect on this image as I approach Sunday, October 5th, which is the one-year anniversary of my dad’s death. I saw in that young man a representation of how I might have looked to people out on the deck of the Black Dog as I pushed my dad in his chair around the lake, one of the “field trips” that he was able to take in the final years of his life. My mom would wait at one of the picnic tables for us and when I would arrive after having taken dad on .6 mile walk, I’d park his chair at the table, go into the Black Dog and buy all three of us some coffee. This would be another pleasure for my dad as he missed his cup of coffee every day. And even though we’d have to thicken his drink to keep him from choking on the liquid, his appreciation for a simple cup o’ joe was apparent in the way he’d look at mom and me and, on occasion, exclaim, “Oh, boy!” after taking a sip from his cup.

I was with my father a lot the last week of his life, reading to him, cracking jokes, combing his hair, and promising that I would be back again when I’d have to leave for work. The night before he died, I bowed out of an executive committee meeting for my theatre troupe, and instead went to my dad’s assisted living facility. I arranged with my brother, Tom, to call my cell so he could speak to dad. By this time, my father was no longer talking, and he could barely keep his eyes open. However, I watched his face during the phone call. I could hear my brother weeping as he told his father how important he’d been to him and how much he loved him. My father’s forehead wrinkled and his chin trembled as he listened to Tom. And I had the sense that if he could have spoken, he probably would have been crying out his love for my brother. The hospice nurse and I changed my dad into his “Happiness is a Black Labrador” shirt, one of his favorites, and I sat holding his hand. He would give it a squeeze, and then I would return the favor to let him know I was still there and with him. I have no idea how long this handshake lasted, but it seemed to be an hours-long experience of gripping and letting go, holding and releasing.

At some point, I had a sense that it was time for me to go and leave him in the care of hospice. A voice in my head told me, “No fear and no regrets.” I don’t know whose voice it was, I just know it wasn’t mine and it wasn’t dad’s. And I couldn’t tell if this message was one meant for me, for him…or maybe both of us. Regardless, I had a feeling that this was a message that I was to share with him. As I said my good night to him, through words and another long hand squeeze, I put my mouth by his left ear and whispered, “No fear and no regrets.” If nothing else, I thought, I wanted him to know that the message had been received and I was confirming the information.

Could this have been God’s intervention in this moment between father and daughter? I have thought about that. It may well have been. Certainly, the consistent message of the gospels, and even in passages of the Old Testament, is a mantra of “Do not be afraid.” The promise Jesus makes to Christians is that he will be with us always to the end of the age, and that includes the end of our age in this realm. For those left in mourning, we have hope in the resurrected life which occurs again and again...not just in the yearly celebration of Easter, but in our own lives as we experience changes and “growing pains”. How much more life is there when our souls depart to become joined with communion of saints? I wouldn’t have clue. But my sense is that whatever it is in “the great beyond”, it is good. It is right. It is holy. And it’s nothing to fear.

No fear and no regrets. No, I have none. And I can celebrate the life my father had, and what it has meant to the life I am now living. One in which God can be the centerpiece and the constant checkpoint for how I live and move and have my being. And for that I can say, “Thank you, dad, and thanks be to God”.


Border Explorer said...

What a beautiful tribute! Tears are running down my face; I am so touched. Bless you and thank you for sharing this sacred moment.

Anonymous said...

As always you manage to put into words the way it is....I have shared with you that I spent the final hours with my darling partner for life that last day and felt him squeeze my hand. I just wish that all his sons could have been with usw but you filled the bill so well, and I could actually know he was saying, "My little Toodie." I really think it was perfect when Brandy lay down on Dad's stone on Sunday. It made a good end to a difficult day.

Anonymous said...

This was such a beautiful story. I'm going through a lot of transition right now and for some reason I googled "no fear and no regrets." This was the first blog to come up and it is truly moving. Thank you so much, this story was beautiful. I'm looking for peace in this world, and you just helped me find it.