This afternoon I am sitting with my father, and it is peaceful. It’s raining. He is reading; I’m working on my computer. He is humming contentedly to himself. It is quiet.
It reminds me of some of my favorite moments of my childhood. My parents and I sitting around, reading together. The peace and stillness of each of us absorbed in a book. The deliciousness of quiet, the coziness, in our own space, protected from the chaos of the outside world. Today, enjoying this moment with my father, it is even more precious knowing these moments are limited.
I am told my father is dying. That he has multiple organs failing. He has an aggressive form of dementia, so my siblings and I have had to make medical choices together on his behalf. We put him on hospice, took him off his medical interventions a few weeks ago, were told to come and spend time with him as soon as possible.
My brother, my sisters and I all traveled to Utah, ready to surround him, ready to say goodbye. And instead of a time of mourning, we had a joy-filled weekend. He was active and talkative, clear headed and funny. Better, in fact, than we had seen him in months.
After a week, I went home, to take care of my kids, to go back to work, but ready to come back when called. Being at home was torturous, waiting for that call. Anytime the phone rang, I quickly picked up, bracing myself for the news that could come at any moment. It was difficult not seeing him, not having a tangible idea of how he was doing – is he declining? Should I come? I was just there, but should I come again now? How long will this last? Will I be able to get there in time?
I moved through my days zombie-like. I kept finding myself staring off into space, losing track of my thoughts, forgetting what I was doing in the middle of doing it. There were still the doings of life to attend to – children, work, household. I did the things there were to do, but it was a bit like moving through a fog.
For most of us, being in the unknown is really, really, uncomfortable. The truth is, we are all living in the unknown all the time. My dad is dying. But so are we all. That he has a terminal diagnosis is only slightly more certain than the truth that we all have a terminal diagnosis. Death is a certainty for all of us. It will likely be sooner for him than for most of us, but again, not even that is a given.
I am struggling with allowing for this unknown. There is a strong wanting to know, to have it fit in with my timeline. “How long?” we keep asking his hospice nurse, but she can’t give us an answer. It’s as if I want to be able to schedule this into my day planner, schedule my grieving, have it tidy and neat. I understand this is irrational, I know it doesn’t work this way. I know that death and grieving all have their own timing, their own rhythm. I also know that faced with the uncertainty of life, our minds do funny things to make us think we have some control.
The truth being there is very little control we have at all. A saying I have heard expresses it well: Relax, nothing is under control.
All we can hope to do is to seek a steadiness from within, as the storms of life play out, and do our best to keep letting go. It is in the stuff of life that our practice really comes to play. Can we respond with grace, with wisdom, with tenderheartedness and surrender to the challenges of life? In this, I am grateful for my yoga and mindfulness practice, as it helps me cultivate a steady heart, no matter what arises. At least that is what I am practicing. Sometimes it is easier done than other times.
I returned to Utah last weekend, to spend time with him.
He is bright and funny. Confused but endearing. A ham as he always has been, always a sucker for a pun, always ready for a loving jab at the people he cares about. He doesn’t know where he is most of the time, but he hasn’t lost his sense of humor, and that is the biggest gift for all of us who know and love him.
In the meantime, I do my best to cherish this time with him, practicing the never-ending letting go of control, letting this process unfold in its own time. Death is much like birth. Unpredictable. There are moments that feel urgent and moments that feel interminably long, moments where boredom and impatience arise. But also a knowing that this is sacred time, this transition between two worlds.
In the meantime, we sit. I enjoy the quiet. I take a breath. I practice being here now.