FAREWELL MY FATHER
My father is missing. I can’t find him. I’ve looked for him in every crack and crevice of familiar territory. I’ve rummaged through every remnant of residing rationale, within every boundary of his being and through every margin and fragment of his story. There’s no one on the page that bears his description. He’s simply vanished between the lines.
Alzheimer’s, the insidious kidnapper, is stealing pieces of my father with each passing day. I feel such deep sorrow over the deterioration that corrodes his physical, mental, and emotional functioning, stripping him down to the “bare bones of being”. This once vital, exuberant man lives hunched in silent confusion, savouring only temporary moments of vibrant awareness, through the support and grace of my mother who, through all her weariness, perseveres to infuse his life with loving care, dignity and gentleness.
Today they have been married 55 years.
My father once told me that a good marriage blesses the world, because it is provides a context in which two people together become more than each would have been alone. My world has surely been blessed by the presence of this lovely couple—my parents—who live on Sunnyside Street. I wonder how much of their “sunny side” has been forever eclipsed by the shadows of this devastating illness.
“How the hell am I going to get to heaven?” my father demands. Not long ago, this outburst would have conjured up good-natured laughter.
I reply, “Isn’t that a little like that guy who said ‘Thank God I’m an atheist?’ He doesn’t hear me. Again he is lost in remnants of fragmented thoughts, tumbling through an inner landscape of pervasive sadness.
“How can there be a place for someone who is useless, who is no longer participating, contributing or being of service in this world?” This heartbreaking contemplation provided the substance of our last real father daughter discussion. Held within each other’s love, we delved deeply, and together we touched profound spiritual truths. This time together I will treasure throughout my life.
I park the car and sit for a few minutes in frozen meditation. And I ask my own questions: “Why can’t this burden be lifted in light of today’s celebration? How do I redefine meaning and purpose amidst the onslaught of such deterioration?”
The only answer: Silence.
Then, I recall a teaching from the Ojibwa First Nations:
“Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while a great wind is bearing me across the sky”. By the grace of these words, I see beyond the veil of my father’s disease. What do I see? Only Love. Nothing else exists there. Therein is found a perfect peace, a deeper joy, and a natural vortex of possibility: Heaven.
As I walk through the door I surrender to Love, and catch a first glimpse of my father’s kind and brilliant presence. There is something visible that is much more powerful than his biology. I recognize that he is on a journey that is more magnificent than what I can discern with my limited physical senses. Within his secret inner world, an emerging innocence is born. Where mental functioning had been a priority, now a sweet functioning of youth appears and a spiritual innocence begins to breathe. As mental scrutiny and examination are released, a great sense of acceptance and oneness with all life is expressed, not with words, but through the emanation of his beautiful being.
If my father’s transition through Alzheimer’s has taught me anything, it is to honor the present moment as the only time that is, and to celebrate his internal journey through all the stages of manifestation.
And I owe much to my beautiful mother who, by letting go of “Art” with love, faith and fondness, has taught me, their daughter, the art of letting go. Through her, I see how the falls of life can somehow generate the energy that propels us onward. Her enormous resilience and resourcefulness have carried all of us to new territory.
This article is dedicated to my mother and father:
Art and Nel van der Grient.
February 10, 2009
A week after this article was written, my father, Art van der Grient, passed away peacefully on February 18th at Haliburton Hospital surrounded by his family and in the loving, magnificent care of his pallitive angel and guide: Lucie. We hold this beautiful nurse in our dearest love and gratitude.
…I found my father this morning. He was everywhere. I felt him in the gentle arms of my son, as he held me while I was quietly sobbing. I heard him whisper through the calm, reassuring voice of my daughter as she stood by his bed. I saw him sparkle through another pair of divine, blue eyes… those of a caring son-in-law, who is now a comforting vanguard of this family.
And just a moment ago, I felt this great wind bearing across the sky….
God Bless My Father…………………………………………………..Who Art in Heaven
How Great Thou Art