What Matters Most

Personal Essays

September 7, 2017, is my dad’s 77th birthday. He wanted to make it this far, but he didn’t. My dad died on April 10th. My dad is dead. Words hard to write. Missing someone I can never see again is a lonely ache in my chest. Thinking of him brings an image of him to my mind. It’s a happy vision. Then the reality. Like walking into a glass door.

It’s been almost five months. When the grief was hardest, and I was doubled over with tears, heaving for breath, I’d find a wall or a carpet to lean my cheek against. I held my dad’s hand to my right cheek his last week. It was comforting. Now, it’s like I turn off. My eyes remain open and I am breathing, but the grief takes my spirit out. The blankness lasts as long as it needs, sometimes moments others longer. My thoughts and feelings gone. I am just a body crouched or curled, letting air enter and exit my lungs.

My dad’s breathing the day before he died was agonizing to witness. His lungs had liquid bubbling up, frothy yellow fluid pooling in his mouth and oxygen mask. My mom and I held his hands and told him to hold on. My brother and sister were still several hours away, on the road driving to us.

I bent my head and meditated harder than I ever had before. Purplish light seemed to funnel from behind my closed eyes – in the dark space I can sense but not see – between me and my dad. I repeated a mantra for hours, chanting in my head – I take the liquid from your lungs and give you my breath.

He wasn’t ready to go. He stayed with us through the night and almost all of the next day. In the morning his breathing had changed: no more fluid, no death rattle. He was breathing gently and regularly; very different than he’d been all his life with his sleep apnea.

It unfurled into a beautiful day with family, stories, live music, a lavender bath, and a hand and foot massage. When he took his last breath around 9:30 pm, one of his closest friends had arrived an hour earlier and we were talking about my dad, what we loved about him, the obstacles he overcame throughout his life. He was a complicated human, with personal demons and struggles, but it didn’t change his love for us, his gratitude for the good in his life.

I feel like he was aware of us. He wasn’t in pain anymore and our words surrounded him with understanding: “They know me.” Then he was gone. Just a body, freezing in place. His spirit hopefully happy and free, dancing atom-like through the night.

What matters most is that we were honest. Our love for him was complex, but it was love. The best kind, full of understanding. We held his heart with ours at the end.