For the Term of Their Natural Lives

I remember as a small child looking back at my mum as she waved us off to school, and feeling briefly terrified at the possibility she could die while I was away. It was my greatest fear that one day I would be without my parents, and though this fear receded when I reached adulthood, it still inhabited a recess in my mind. And so it was one autumn day this year, that one of my worst fears was realised with the death of my father.

He had been frail and vulnerable to the ravages of old age when he died in hospital in the wee hours of the morning. After our family had completed the all-consuming practicalities of organising our first funeral, I’d felt restless and found it impossible to settle. I’d escaped to the local mall to lose myself in the mindless task of shopping, but still I could not focus and wandered around aimlessly, until on an impulse, I decided to try and centre myself with a massage. I lay back and closed my eyes while a vigorous woman expertly pounded and stretched my feet. Her deft fingers migrated to work deep into my calf when suddenly a memory rose unvisited for a lifetime; it was of my dad who’d been the one to tend to us in the middle of the night whenever one of us had leg cramps.  I had a clear memory of him making everything right again and tears welled beneath my lids. I felt that he was close by and letting me know that everything was indeed alright, and my sense of equilibrium began to return.

I continued to mourn Dad’s passing, but I did not experience the crippling grief I had expected to accompany it. In its place I felt peace and a deep gratitude for his role in my life, and wondered a little guiltily, why I didn’t feel deep pain.

My close friend Rob lost his elderly mother last week. She too had been confined to hospital and hadn’t been expected to leave. As he came to terms with the finality of her death, he also realised there was a ‘naturalness’ to it.  Rob contrasted this with the recent tragedy of a four year old, who was crushed to death when a rogue petrol tank smashed the car he was travelling in.  I too had felt incredibly sad after seeing a photo of the beaming, blond boy taken shortly before his life was extinguished in an instant. The loss of such a young life is impossible to reconcile.

When I saw my dad the day before he died he was struggling to breathe, making it difficult to talk. I said “Dad, stick out your tongue if you can hear me.” And he did in such a cheeky way that it made me smile despite the worrying spectacle. We could not have known it would be his last day, and when I returned to the hospital the following morning it was with the heavy burden of having failed to say goodbye.  Dad lay still as stone in the room he’d occupied for months, his eyes shut and his body just a shell.  But there was great tranquillity surrounding him; it filled us all and seemed to rise to the ceiling to fill the spaces in the sterile room.  Around the same time in India, my sister saw a firefly glowing in her hair and later intuited it as our father’s spirit passing.

After I hung up the phone from Rob, I reflected on how fortunate we are if our parents live to an advanced age. With the ending of a long life cycle there can be more space for acceptance, and gratitude for the mystery. There is a ‘naturalness’ to their passing, for we have outlived them as we hope our children will us.  We’ve been endowed with a sense of completeness in an unpredictable world, and an enduring peace as we ourselves move onwards.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Stephen McQually
    Aug 16, 2014 @ 22:00:58

    These snippets are a gift. Thank you for writing. Clever title by the way


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