Casey was a toddler when my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I remember that because the recommended treatment at the time was implanting a radium seed in the prostate. I had to be vigilant in keeping Casey away from him for a while to avoid radiation exposure. Vigilance was not difficult for me when it came to Casey’s well-being. At that point my father was probably in his late sixties. During his mid-eighties, my father decided that he no longer needed the prostate medication. I don’t remember whether this decision was questioned, but soon after medical testing revealed a recurrence of the cancer.

If you knew my father, you might know that he was a staunch atheist. Actually, I didn’t know that fact for most of my life. During his eighties, my father began talking about his early years as a socialist. He went to a socialist school (I didn’t realize there were schools for communists and socialists). As my father became more ill, I was visiting him every few months from Louisiana. The next to  last time I visited, while I was walking him to the dinner table (which my mother told me was a very rare occurrence those days), my father must have been reflecting on what was on all our minds. He said, “they are just going to put me in the ground and that is it and anybody who thinks otherwise is sentimental.” I remember this statement like it was yesterday. This was the philosophy I grew up with.

During his decline, I was in intensive breathwork training in Sedona, Arizona, for four weeks. I remember getting daily reports from my mother and talking to the breathwork trainer who had recently lost her father. She recommended a classic book in dealing with end-of-life issues, Final Gift, which was written by two hospice workers. When I returned home to Louisiana, I had a significant dream. It was an elaborate dream that I know that I recorded at the time. The part I remember now is that I was riding in a vehicle which was going way too fast down an exit ramp in a parking garage. There was a monkey driving who was obviously out of his mind. What I had been confronting in myself was this tendency to over-analyze and get lost in my mental chatter. To me this was a message that I needed to discipline the monkey mind, a Buddhist term for unbridled, undisciplined thought that wreaks havoc and competes with living in the heart. I was on a mission to live more in my heart and intuition than in my mind.

That was on a Friday and my brother, Dale, was arriving on Saturday to visit. I had a strong intuition to visit my father. I called my mother and told her how I felt. She told me that my father was extremely medicated and wasn’t at all aware of his environment. I conceded that I still felt the need to visit him. In exasperation she said to me, “okay I will put him on the phone. When he heard my voice he said to me, “hello doll, are you coming over?” “Yes dad, I’m coming now.” And I drove directly to the airport.

I brought the book, Final Gift, on the airplane to read and a woman at the opposite end of my row enthusiastically acknowledged it, saying, “I am a hospice worker and my daughter’s friends wrote that book!” Okay, I felt like I was in the zone. That evening I arrived at my brother and sister-in-law’s house in Pennsylvania to go to sleep for the night. In the morning I visited my father, and when he saw me he asked me how long I was going to stay. I told him that I’d be there for about a day. He responded by saying, “oh good, you will be available in case I need you.” This was the man who was supposedly not in touch with reality.

Within a few hours he began his dying process. We called hospice and I called Dale to come home. With the help of the promptings from the book I was reading, I sat with my father as he shared his experience as best he could from the intermittent times he was spending on the other side. I asked him if his mother visited and he happily shared, “she comes to see me every day, she loves to come see me.” What shocked me the most was when he talked about HEAVEN. When I sounded shocked to hear him speak of heaven, thinking that I did not understand the word he explained, “it is a  place of  tranquility.” If I ever had doubts about the spirit world, I no longer do. Thank you father for your greatest teaching.

After that interchange, my brothers and I stood around my father’s bed for hours. Unable to bear the scene, my mother came in separately to say her goodbyes. He began to struggle and choke, which was unnerving, but the hospice nurse reassured us that it was part of the process. I stroked my father’s forehead and sang “Child of God.”  This is a song that I sang to Jordan every night for his first ten years of life. I was becoming anxious as the night wore on and my father continued to struggle. I asked Lee to sleep there in case things became more difficult. So he slept in one side of the house and I slept in my parents room on the other. Within five minutes of each other, we walked into my father’s room where he lay peacefully. I held his hand and he took one more breath. I looked above his body and said goodbye to the man who gave me life.