Tuesday, September 15, 2015


Dad was admitted to hospital on Monday August 31, and my sister Donna flew to Honolulu Wednesday to be with him. He was confused but improving, and everyone was talking about his recovery/rehab. Still, as the week wore on, I felt a strong desire to be with him. As I wrote earlier, I responded immediately to the blood center's reminder email, and that gave me a sense of connection with Dad. Yet I also wanted to see him in person.

It was September 3rd and I considered the possibilities. We had a plan to meet my daughter and son-in-law and grandson and niece in Felton Monday the 7th (Labor Day), so I wanted to leave after that. The lovely Carol had reservations to fly to Asia on the 17th, so I wanted to return before that. I'd briefly considered flying to Honolulu Monday morning and canceling our plans with the young folks, but since everyone in Honolulu was optimistic, I left those plans intact and planned to fly out Friday 9/11 (an auspicious date).

We enjoyed our time with the young folks on Monday, but our house phone rang that night, close to midnight. Nothing good happens at that hour, and this was when I heard Dad was in a crisis. An hour later he stopped breathing.

I was distressed about this, and wanted to see my mom and sisters immediately. I briefly considered taking the first flight I could get, which would have been about 6 hours later. Instead I opted for a flight out Wednesday morning.

Tuesday morning I went to the office and set up an email auto-reply. I also preemptively told my colleagues that I was leaving due to a death in the family. Several friends (and colleagues) stopped by to convey their condolences. Two gave me the same excellent advice: DO NOT indulge the "what if?"s.

Should I rent a car? I wasn't sure so I texted my sisters.

As I packed, I thought, well, if I had left Monday morning I might have seen him alive one more time. I thought, if I had "facetime"d him Monday afternoon, as my cousin-by-marriage had, I would have talked to him alive one more time. Then I remembered my friends' excellent advice and renounced those thoughts. No one is ever told what would have happened…

Thursday afternoon we had an appointment at the mortuary to look at Dad's body before cremation. I wasn't sure I liked the cremation idea, but when I saw his body (it had been in the 'fridge and condensation was forming at several places) I changed my mind. The past few weeks he had lost quite a bit of weight. I wanted to remember him as he was during my previous visits.

We all wept. We agreed that things could have been much worse: it might have been months in a hospital bed in the house, a life he would not have liked. We knew all this, but still it was hard to accept that he was really gone. A world without my father in it is an idea that repels the mind.

Donna said it was good for us to see him here; without it we might imagine he was just at the hospital or somewhere else. I agreed. It's a necessary shock to force the mind to accept an idea that repels it.

Mom asked if someone could pray, and I said, "Not me; I can't even see." My sister Inga spoke to God for us.

We had a memorial service Saturday: the urn holding his ashes sat on a table in front, with a 20"x30" pic of him nearby. Several people shared their memories of him. I heard things I hadn't known before—things that made me desire even more to be like him.

Monday morning we buried his ashes. In a small ceremony at the cemetery we watched the urn go into the underground concrete "vault" and we filed by, dropping flowers into the hole in the earth. Workers from the cemetery closed the vault and shoveled soil to fill the hole, then replaced the sod.

It was important, for me at least, to witness this. As our pastor says sometimes, our bodies know things different from what our heads know. By dropping a flower into the vault (into the hole at least) and mentally saying good-bye to Dad, my body was forced to acknowledge that Dad is really no longer with us on this earth. Without this ritual, my mind would still have known that he's gone, but my body would not be sure.

Sometimes we go to funerals to comfort the bereaved, and I appreciate everyone who came to Dad's memorial to comfort us. But at least from my perspective, the important thing I got was that I acknowledged with both my mind and my body that my dad is no longer with us.

That way, the mind and the body and the reality in the world can all agree—this promotes mental and spiritual health. And I need all of that I can get.

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