For the past few weeks I have had the sorrow and also the privilege of spending the last days and indeed hours of my father’s life at his bedside.
I say privilege, because I have so many friends who have lost their parents suddenly and not been able to say goodbye and hold their hands when their time has come. None of us, save a few sages and enlightened lamas, can predict when or how we will depart this earth. But dying is something we all share. To quote my departed father, “Life is deadly dangerous. None of us survive it”.
My father never talked about his final wishes, but he hang on to life long enough that my mother, his children and even his grandchildren could wish him farewell, thank him for all he has taught and given us, and told him that we care and love him. For this I am immensely grateful.
Seeing dad gradually die in front of our eyes was tremendously hard, but also an important lesson. When I came home to Norway in July, dad could still go for small strolls. The walks became shorter and the rests on benches more frequent. When he no longer could walk, mom and I took him for drives instead. Within a few weeks he was in hospital, then palliative care.
My father knew his life was ending, but he still could talk and even swear, when the frustration of his failing body became too much. Dad’s hands, big, solid and always tanned from sailing, were loosing strength. It is hard for a man who has been strong and capable all his life to suddenly need help with lifting a cup to his mouth.
Speech became harder, and thus words more superfluous. On one of his last days my brother and his 9-year-old son came to visit. “Take care of your father”, dad urged his grandson. The promise was made. We told dad that his grandson had taken part in a bike race that day, but my father did not want to hear nor speak of small matters. He knew his time was limited. Nothing more needed saying.
His voice started faltering and he could only whisper. His anger and anxiety were gone and he only wished for eternal rest. “Thank you for life” he said suddenly as I was leaving one day. Then there were no voice, and finally, there were no breath. He had his peace.
As I grieve for my dear father, I also thank him for his last lessons and gifts to us. By his departure, however painful, he brought the family closer together. Watching dad’s systems fail one by one, we were reminded what a gift and privilege it is to live. Waking up is a gift, as is getting out of bed or simply moving a hand. As trivial as it may sound, buttoning ones pants, blowing ones nose or wiping a tear from ones eye is not only a privilege, but a human act that is not to be taken for granted.
My father had a special way of telling us he loved us. “Thank you for being”, he would say. He was not thanking us for being successful or clever. He simply thanked us for being us, good or bad or indifferent. As I imagine him sailing a perfect breeze into an eternal sunset, I also say. “Thank you for being, dad!”
Old sailors never die, they just sail away.