An Unexpected Detour

I was enjoying a warm April week on Witts End Farm in Witts Springs, AR when my sister called to say our father had entered home hospice. I had planned to see him in mid-June when my travel route brought me to Bellingham, WA but the news made me reassess. I cancelled my plan to attend Easter services at All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa and bought a plane ticket West.

As luck would have it, the farm is a slice of heaven on earth owned by my friends Raven Badger and Charles Proper, and they generously offered to host Bella during my time away. Raven sent me photos and videos of Bella in here element, running leash-less, keeping an eye on the horses, and rolling in assorted puddles and manure piles. In other words, she was having the time of her life. I get it, since I had a great time there also: I rode a horse, collected chicken eggs, fed food scraps to two enormous pigs, tossed alfalfa to a half dozen horses, watched a hay field be cleared of sage grass with fire, baked an apple-blackberry pie, and savored home-grown bacon and ham. I enjoyed blissful dawns and dusks, slept in a log-hewn bunk bed with Bella, and I learned to say, “Shut up, Bailey” when the parrot got too noisy for human conversation.

I had a good week with my father. We listened to his favorite jazz CDs, I wheeled him downstairs for a few meals in the assisted living facility dining room, we attended a folk guitar and mandolin concert as well as two happy hours, and we had some good conversations. I learned interesting things about his life, his career, and my parents’ marriage. I was struck by his deep gratitude for and commitment to our shared Unitarian Universalist faith. Sometimes, I read while he dozed in his wheelchair. Actually, that happened a lot, because, as a friend’s mom astutely described it, the end of life is like the winding down of a clock.

Our last day together. #loveyoudad

I had planned to ask him if he wanted to record a message for his grandchildren, but I realized that his life was his message. He lived with integrity, with deep love and passion, with generosity, and wit. It is telling that the last emotional barrier he faced before death was his frustration with an assisted living facility policy that prevented him from giving small gifts to his three favorite aides.

We talked about our family’s lack of belief in an afterlife, and I asked whether that had changed now that Mom was dead and he was at the end of his life. He paused, as he always did before speaking, and said, “I think that if you’ve lived honestly and you haven’t done anyone dirty, that’s heaven on earth.”

As hard as it was to goodbye, it became a bit more tolerable when I told him how much I missed him and Dad said, “Yes, well, it’s the circle of life and all that.” Ever the pragmatist, similar to Mom who kept waking up from naps during her last week asking, “Why am I still here? Why does it take so long to die?” Readers who know me and my sisters personally will recognize that the apples fell close to the tree.

The day before Dad died, I was driving across the Utah desert when suddenly, I was awash in emotions of love, grief, and loss. I wept as I drove, tears rolling down my face onto my shirt. It lasted about a half hour, and when it occurred to me that Dad might be transitioning into death, I spoke words that only my dog heard. I thanked him for being such a good man and father. I wished him an easy passing, I told him how deeply I would miss him, and I said goodbye. I hope my sentiments reached him energetically; around the time I had that experience, Dad was being put on a morphine drip for comfort. He died the next morning.

I didn’t feel much like blogging until now. I needed to process not only Dad’s death but also Mom’s, my uncle’s and aunt’s deaths, and the death of my beloved dog Fred, last summer. I also needed to reflect on other concerning issues facing my beloveds as I was dealing with the physical and emotional demands of this long journey around the country. It’s been a damn hard ten months, and I was raw. I’m still raw, but I’m able to write again. I’ve been recording impressions and ideas along the way, and over time I’ll catch up and share them here. One thing I have been doing is sharing photos on Instagram, and if you’d like to see them, please follow me at @uu_circuitrider (be sure to include the underscore).

Happy trails, Melanie