My father died of cancer in the summer of 1992 when I was 27 years old.
I sat beside him on that July evening. His battle with pancreatic cancer had been quick but savage. The once suntanned, athletic, healthy man had withered to a pale, skinny shell of himself, his face ashen, his eyes hollow, his fingers waxy and cold. Now, he breathed unevenly on the hospice bed set up in our dining room. I held his hand, and he instinctively squeezed it back, although he had been unconscious for at least two days.
My sister-in-law had been in Chicago for a wedding shower with her best friend, and while she was gone, he had been in a steady, near comatose state, barely reactive. But as she walked through the door, something changed. Although his eyes did not open, his breathing became more active, more present, and we all sensed he knew that she was here, that the family was now complete.
In the ensuing hour or so, his breathing became labored. The hospice nurse backed away quietly as my mother, my three siblings, my sister in law and I all crept closer to say our goodbyes.
We talked as if he could hear us, because we all knew he could. There were tears certainly, but also relief, and love.
As his breaths became more jagged, and the time between them grew longer, I squeezed his frail hand and said, “It’s okay. You can go now. We’ll be fine.”
And a few breaths later, he simply stopped.
The peacefulness of his death awes me to this day. One moment he was with us, present although unconscious, and the next he departed.
We saw no special light or felt no unusual energy, but every one of us in the room that night knew the exact moment when his life ended.
And for me, that has made all the difference. It took the mysteriousness out of death. Any fear I had had of dying and the end of all consciousness expired in that moment.
His sunken, waxy corpse we kept closed in the casket because we all knew it no longer represented the father and husband we knew. The photo sitting atop the casket contained the energy and spark and vitality that this empty shell of a body no longer did.
A few years later, in the midst of a personal crisis, I cried out to my father for help and guidance, and in one of those magical moments, that we often experience alone, I felt an electricity in the air–a literal burst of energy around me that caused the hair of my arms to stand on end and my insides to tremble.
I felt flooded with joy. My intuition told me my father had responded to my plea. And no scientific inquiry or lab experiment could possibly have convinced me more emphatically. Some things in life are simply known.
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