Death and Meaning
Flying back to New York, 37,000 ft. over some state between here and there, I thought that no matter what I was going to experience back at my parents house, I would remain present for it. I would be responsible for my being there. I wanted my physical presence to make a difference. I knew that it would probably not be pretty, to witness what my father was going through, that it would be something I had never seen before, the death of my father, but I knew that to look away would not be living well, it would not be the courageous thing to do. I wanted to keep my eyes open as the lion charged. I wanted to experience all of it.
My father had been diagnosed a few years earlier with Parkinson’s disease and four months prior to this plane ride, he’d had his second and third strokes. For the last week he was incapacitated and when awake, in full dementia. I landed, got to my parents house, put my bag down and rolled up my sleeves. The next seven days I bathed him, changed his diaper, put cream on his bed sore and read him poetry with the whole time remaining as present as I could to his decline, which was quick and accelerating each day. I said that I wanted to remain present; I wanted to experience everything. He spoke nonsense up until Wednesday and for two and a half days he was silent. With this I was familiar. He was not much of a presence in life, the sort that would be in the corner reading at any family gathering. He assumed no role of sail or rudder in my life and any fatherly advice he may have given was now locked up away in that failing brain of his.
He died with only me in the room, holding his hand. He stopped breathing for, I don’t know how long, then inhaled deeply and let the final breath out. I said that I wanted to remain present; I wanted to experience everything. I kept watching to see what happens; what happens when your father dies in front of you, the father that wasn’t much of an influence, the father that I desperately wanted a connection with, the one man I thought could help me find meaning in life. But….nothing. He died. That is it. No openings in the sky, no lights shining down upon his face, no bells ringing. What happened was that his body could no longer support the energy that animated it for seventy-five years, and with one last exhale, he was no more.
My father did not survive his physical death. The “perfect storm” of biology, energy and consciousness that was my father will never be on this planet again and that is what is so difficult to be with, to be present to and experience. This world is inherently meaningless and it doesn’t mean anything that it doesn’t mean anything. Most would find comfort in this, yet it has been like a bucket of cold water being dumped on a blissfully sleeping child.
Of course, I could be wrong about what happens after death. We could be transported to some other reality, our consciousness in tact, to live out a better existence than this one, playing harps and an eternity of Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey at our disposal but I don’t think so. When we die, we die. Period. When death comes, there is no negotiating, no bartering for time. Death comes for everyone, no matter if you were a saint or an S.O.B. What we do in this life, inherently, has no meaning.
I have struggled to find purpose throughout my life, strained to live my life well, as a “nice guy,” saying “bless you” post sneeze, holding doors open for those lagging behind, thinking that it would, at some moment, mean something. I have seen what the end looks like and it is not pretty. I said that I wanted to remain present; I wanted to experience everything but to what end? For what purpose? All inquiries and questions and subsequent answers are cathartic, at best. They only lead me back to “what’s the point?”, a very unforgiving abyss to stare into. And yet, most times, I come back to that I am here, now. We are here, now. I am, we are in this moment, right now. How this moment and subsequent ones play out is entirely up to me. And there is another human being sitting next to me who is not that different and is probably struggling with the same things, right now, in this moment. All that I can promise myself is the validity of this moment, because right now, I exist. I am responsible for that and that alone.
But, I struggle.
Brendan is a dear dear friend of mine an I encourage you to connect with him here. Please leave comments to this beautiful essay below so he can see them and respond accordingly. Thanks, tribe, xo jen
I cannot tell you how impactful this was for me to read. Tomorrow is the 19th anniversary of my mother’s death and I, too, took care of her until her last breath. I am sitting hear crying at my corporate desk remembering that period as if it were yesterday. The memories are fresh and I think they always will be. Part of that motivates me to hold onto the idea of “live this day as if it was your last.” Thank you SO much for sharing!
Wow Brendan so well spoken. Odd how this resonated with me. My mother passed away 2 years ago March 21st and I was there also in her hospital room at the very end. I was the one to tell the doctors to turn everything off because she was so uncomfortable and no one else wanted to do it. I had also been looking for the same things all of my life which I never received. As soon as they did this and shot her with morphine to ease everything she looked at me with eyes wide open and she was scared as she knew something was wrong. I held her hand and said “no it is all Ok” and she said “no it is not”. But I was holding her hand and looking into her eyes and she was comforted. I felt this as she closed her eyes and fell into a deep sleep shortly before she passed a few hours later. All that I had wanted did not matter anymore and that I was there to hold her hand felt like a gift. Hard to explain but it left me with something I had never had. The love I was looking for was given to her.
Thank you. I am so touched by this today.
*SIGH* I held my Mom’s hand too – for over 24 hours. I couldn’t let go…Her love, her life and her death have all been a gift to me.. XO
Beautiful, honest & raw….very meaningful to me right now as my 92 year old mother is approaching that ‘death & meaning’ moment you speak so eloquently & hearfelt about. Bravo!
Wow-what you wrote, about being alone with your father, holding his hand. Wanting to stay present for him as he passed. I could have written the exact same paragraph. Due to an infection my father had, we had to wear gowns and gloves when in his room. When I realized he was leaving, I took off the gloves and held his hand. I didn’t want his last touch to be through a glove. And yes, I struggle, too. I think in one way or another we all do-
Being present was what truly matterd 🙂 thank you for sharing such a beautiful and very personal experience 🙂 it touched my heart deeply.
Thank you for the heartfelt share. My Mom just passed away three months ago, we were not close, my Brother however was her sole caregiver for 5 years and she was his reason for living …and he was there at the end. When the Doctor wanted to disconnect and my Brother called me weeping and could not give the OK, I said it is what she would want, what I would want in that debilitated state. Just as he agreed with me, I heard the Dr say that her heart had stopped. He too was present, and is still shattered by the experience. I look for words of wisdom to share, to help him through the grief and his emotional struggle, I feel reading your words and story were a gift. Thank you. I hope that you find comfort in the hearts you have touched.
Thank you for sharing this precious experience of your father’s passing. I, too, held my father’s hand until he passed. It was months later that a friend asked me what were my father’s last words. The last word he said was my name, “Jean.” I said, “I am here with you, Dad” and he fell into a coma and died a few hours later.
While it is so difficult for you to have lost your father, it is a blessing that he did not die alone and that you were holding his hand. I think you were your father’s greatest blessing even though he probably never told you so.
Bless you, Brendan.
What an amazing read. It’s hard to even find words to explain the emotional impact of something so raw, so poignant, so personal and yet universally human. Thank you for sharing your experience and your self with us.
[…] so he can see them and respond accordingly. This is his second guest post on The Manifest-Station. Click here to read his first. Thanks, tribe, xo […]