When my father died in 2008, I was flying home from his burial and as I was up in the clouds I felt like he was with me. He had been with me the entire last night of his life-although he was in Minneapolis in home hospice care and I was on my farm in Oregon. I had made the choice to stay put, until he died, and then I would fly home. It was a hard decision, I went back and forth, but I knew I had already said goodbye to my father on my last trip, some three months earlier. We said goodbye with our eyes, and it was a very personal moment, a moment between him and me that nobody experienced but us. We knew in March, sometime after my fiftieth birthday, he had a matter of days, not weeks. He could no longer talk on the phone nor did he want to. His little dog who slept with him, separated from him days before the final moment. So on the afternoon I got the call that it was probably going to happen that night or by morning, I opted to sleep in the guest room at our farm. That night, I talked to him all night, in whispers, and I told him it was okay to let go, that everyone was going to be okay.
I went in and out of sleep, but would awake from a dream, [or was it a dream?], where I had him there with me. He felt tormented, like he wanted to stay but he couldn’t. I don’t know if he felt he had not said enough before he left, he was not one for acknowledging certain things which led to difficulties at times, in our relationship. But I always loved him, and he me, that was never in question for me. I just think he wanted to tell me more, and he was saying it all that night as perhaps he was floating in an out of this realm.
I flew home in the coming days and asked to see the ashes- but they had been left in the trunk of the car, in a secure garage, as we would be burying him at Fort Snelling the next day. I was appalled they had left his ashes in the trunk. They had all had many weeks to adjust to this inevitable departure, since they were in the thick of it. I understand. But I waited until they were all in bed and snuck down to the garage and retrieved the ashes, and placed them near my bed that night. His dog slept with me too.
I found out a year later, from my mother, that on his final day, when the door would open and he heard a woman’s voice [it was my sister-in-law], he would say, “Is it her, is it Kack [my nickname]?” This pretty much smashed my heart, but my mom was telling me that because she wanted me to know he was thinking of me. She had actually told me I should stay home until he died. But the night I speak of above, it made even more sense.
I cherish this note from him. He was a real letter and card writer-not just to me but to the many of his colleagues he had all over the world since he travelled for his job as the international architect//designer for 3M. I still have his address book. written in his own hand, with people from all over the world. I can’t bare to toss it, I just like to look at it periodically. He worked there until he was 75, when they slowly pushed him out. It was painful to watch, and I think it caused many issues for him in his final ten years that he didn’t have the tools to address in a healthy way. I remember sitting with him on his couch, months before he would die, and I told him he was such an excellent draftsmen and drawer [he was] and he said in the most humble and genuine way,
“Do you really think so?”
There it was, the wounded heart he had carried around since childhood abandonment, four years in the Pacific as a Marine on the front lines at age 17, and all the other losses he incurred….there was his heart, just pure and open and uncynical, asking me for reassurance.
I miss you, Bob. And you’re okay, and I’m okay, we both know this now, for sure.
So when I was on the plane back from his burial, I not only felt him all around me, in the clouds, the air, everything, I remember thinking,
“My God, the love expands.”
And it does.
The other night I was watching Letterman interview George Clooney and they both addressed how the love they felt when their first children were born was like no other love they had felt. Letterman said, something to the effect of, you can have strong love for your mother, spouse, friend, etc, but when he had his child he said no other love compared to it…it was bigger than any other love one can have in life.
On the one hand, I can imagine this. As someone who cares for animals -who are not my children nor have I ever looked at them as children, ever-I know my mama bear comes out in me when they are sick, bad, or dying. I often think about how my relationship with Martyn has evolved over time, expanded, into being true love-letting the other be himself, letting me be myself in a place of strength, not fear or rivalry-but also I have an intense desire for him to be safe and happy. I do not question that anyone would feel this way, that the love of a child is a different kind of love. But, I think it leaves out something important, all love expands if it is genuine love. While I don’t have a child, I think the sensation of feeling love expands is like that of the parent.
And it doesn’t really matter. Because love is love. Love is everything, in the beginning and in the end. Not to mention in between.