29 Jun 2017


Today, a year ago, my dad died. It was late morning, my mom called the ambulance, put on worship songs and sat with him. According to her, it had been a brief struggle for air and then he stopped breathing. Just like that.

On my visit the month before, my dad and I had talked about heaven. I asked him if he was scared of dying. He said he wasn’t (with a slight shake in his voice) because he was going to be with his Almighty Father. Every night my dad would read the Bible. John. Matthew. Psalms. The passages that spoke of hope, love, and a new life. In our conversation – his mind already absent, corroded by cancer – I said to him, you can go dad. I know God is waiting for you with wide and open arms.

Poetically some might say I gave him permission to go. That we all, in our visits, conversations, gave him permission to leave his earthly home. I don’t know if that’s what happened. All I know is that I released him. That I let him fully transcend into another dimension, another life.

It’s been a year now and I sometimes feel pressured to have digested my father’s death, to have nuggets of truth for other mourners or tips for others who are losing their parents. I don’t have that right now; I still miss him.

I have days when I am mad that my fiancĂ© won’t ever meet him. James won’t hear his belly laugh. Won’t be ruffled by his stoic sense of humour. Won’t have evening chats about religion on the balcony. Won’t get car advice. James won't see how great my dad was with small children (telling them silly stories, making them giggle). Yet, I guess, my dad is a part of me and his ideas and words shaped me and are in me.

This is the first of many deaths

The one thing I learnt in season is that death can be talked about. That there are stages of death, that it’s not such a scary, far away topic, and that we don’t have to use euphemisms like “passing away” (although I still use those when I don't want to shock or feel fragile). We don't have to keep death at arm's length. My therapist said to me, "This is the first death of many you will experience in your life."

Then there's also transcendence in death, radiance, beautiful silences, and witnessing the experience that the mind leaves the body long before the final breath.

Not everyone who is ill is dying

I read an incredible book called The Grace In Dying by Kathleen Singh, which I highly recommend to anyone who knows someone with a terminal illness and wants to dig into that experience. According to Singh, there's a difference between people who are 'terminally ill' and those who are 'dying'. Not everyone who is ill is dying.

I'll explain. The Karnovsky scale assesses a patient's disease progression from 100 to 0 (hundred being no evidence of disease). Singh says that patients go through stages of chaos (100 - 50) until they surrender (50 - below). It was beautiful to see my dad surrender to the fact that he was dying, it was a kind of psychospiritual acceptance, that left the chaos and fighting and looking for cures behind.

Singh also says that the process of dying is easier for those who meditate or have a religion. I see prayer as a form of meditation, and I witnessed an incredible peace in my dad in his last weeks.

There are smart people on this planet for a reason

The other thing that I learned in this time is that there are people who can help. I mean professionals. My bereavement counsellor was amazing; she helped me through the stages of accepting my dad's death, mapped out a timeline of how many weeks he had left, and helped me make big decisions. My doctor, too, was instrumental in giving me the right medication and monitoring my mental health.

Of course, there are also friends. The ones who are not too scared to see you (because there are those who are, and you need to find grace for them too) and will message jokes, check in, or make food. Or like a partner, who will let you cry and be a warm body to hug and distract you with series or outings.

"I stepped into the air and she carried"

In the last weeks of my dad’s life, he often appeared spaced out. Sure, the tumour was pressing on his brain, altering his brain and bodily functions. But he was also already slowly preparing for another life. There's a beautiful German saying, which clumsily translated means, "I stepped into the air and she carried"... It reminds me of my dad. He took the step, it's like slowly floated into a beautiful place – one filled with light and no pain and wide deserts and skies.

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