He was right there, about two feet in front of me and three feet off the ground, and boy was he having a ball. Weightless, joyful, turning somersaults, grinning from ear to ear, and like always, wearing his red v-neck pullover. It was reassuring to see him like that, so much more alive than the body in the hospital bed over to my right.
His diagnosis of end stage liver cancer had come 3 ½ weeks earlier. “Hospital? Hospice?” the doctor had offered. We never even considered those options. Home with us, with family coming and going and ongoing care orchestrated as needed, was where he belonged.
He was in good spirits, very gracious, and grateful for his long and happy life and his ‘amazing family’ as he called us, blended as we were and bound to one another through the love and the life he and she shared. Neither he nor we discussed what was likely to happen, or what the options might be to heal him, even at this late stage. Somehow we just seemed to go into Present mode, taking everything moment by moment, day by day, trusting in this unfamiliar process, finding strategies that would help him in some way, and believing we’d figure it out as we went.
There were forty-four of us – kids, stepkids, partners, grandkids, great-grandkids – not counting their many friends and neighbours and extended family. We were never there all at once, but circle the wagons we did, and those that didn’t visit in person were always phoning or e-mailing. Even the ‘greats’, the little ones, sent stories specially written for him, and colourful heartfelt drawings, and videos full of earnest messages of love and spontaneous smiles. The little ones know in their hearts that this is not all there is, that Poppa Roy will always be close by. And because we were not sad, just present and loving and supportive as he transitioned, the little ones remained open and positive and that brought such joy to him those last weeks.
He needed things done. He dictated a list and we did them. Power of Attorney, Will Executor, repair the kitchen blinds please. He was the great fixer in the household and the extended family, anything at all from engines and renovations to untangling the finest of gold chains. “Dad. I need help.” Or “Roy. Come here please.” When any of us called he was there in a heartbeat. He truly could fix anything, and loved to be useful and take care of things. So we knew it was important to him that we take care of a few things in the townhouse that he hadn’t managed to get done. Whatever put his mind at ease.
His recliner, and then his hospital bed, faced the living room and the gorgeous water view he loved so much, where the little ferry whose engines he ran would chug back and forth across the bay. He loved to hear us all chattering away and could join in when he felt like it.
Thankfully he wasn’t in a lot of pain, although we were certain his failing liver was the cause of his increasing discomfort. We’d done some things to help him as his body weakened, from frankincense oil over his liver to massaging his body to the cannabis oil that seemed the only thing to calm him. As the days progressed he slept more and spoke less. And each time we did something or offered some comfort, we were met with that familiar smile, that ‘love you too’ phrase we knew so well, until he was too weak to do more than mouth the words or just lay holding our hands.
About 3 ½ weeks after his diagnosis, 8 or 10 of us were seated in a circle around the living room, catching up on how he’d been the last few days, conscious of his weakened state and wondering what was keeping him here.
I decided to see if I could discern what was holding him back from crossing over. I sat quietly as the others chatted, feet planted carefully on the ground, hands resting lightly on my legs, and closed my eyes, centering myself with a few deep breaths.
And then there he was. Right there. A few feet in front of me and above the ground. Grinning from ear to ear, his weightless body doing somersault after somersault, clearly having a great time bouncing around free of his earthly body. But then I realized he wasn’t totally free of it after all. A long thin cord ran from him as he bounced around, back down at an angle to the bed where his physical body lay so quietly. An energy cord. Later the Hospice nurses told us that in the last few weeks or days, he’d probably been about 80% gone and 20% still here. I guess I saw the 80%, and boy, was he on his way to a great place. But no explanation came for why he seemed to be hanging on.
A few days later, once the Hospice Team had administered drugs to relieve the suffering, drugs we knew would render him unresponsive to us, we moved him to a Hospice bed. He would require more nursing care and monitoring than we were capable of at home, and no one knew how long before he’d pass over.
Two and a half hours later, surrounded by family holding his hands and his feet and stroking his cheeks, that last 20% of him left the here and now, quietly, peacefully released in a great circle of love and gratitude, the Big Band music he loved playing in the background.
We made phone calls and family gathered, hugging and laughing and crying and talking as the body we’d known lay nearby. I’m pretty sure, though, that he was actually sitting quietly in the corner, tapping his fingers in the air to the beat, like he used to whenever a Big Band tune was playing, and just hanging out with his ‘amazing family.’
We were surprised at first, that he left so soon after moving to Hospice. Maybe he needed the release from the physical place he’d lived and the tasks he’d always taken on to keep everything shipshape, in order to let go.
As that afternoon unfolded, and the days and weeks followed, I didn’t think to once again tune in to see if I could discern anything or see him again. We took our time before creating a celebration of his life, but still the next few weeks were busy with executor duties and sorting things out. Over time, though, it became increasingly clear that I hadn’t seen or heard the last of my dad.