A haven of the living dead

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel

Anything anyone says about an afterlife is mere speculation, no matter how ornate their robes are when saying it. That being said, here’s a fun pondering that struck me the other day…

What if the afterlife (or, afterthislife, as might be better stated) was just like this world — but it was inhabited by people who’ve consciously experienced their deaths in the prior incarnation (this one). What if it was full of people who incarnated with a clear awareness of their lives and deaths in the life prior?

Death is the ultimate teacher in so many ways. Meditating on our mortality is a sure way to put things in perspective and help us live life to the fullest in any waking moment.

But until it happens, it’s merely a notion. If we were to have experienced physical death before, it’s wiped clean from our awareness (I suppose I should speak for myself, though).

They say, and I can imagine, that profound clarity happens during the moments prior to death. What if we could take that stuff into the next life? How would we all be different having consciously experienced the transformative, resurrecting effects of death?

What would we carry into our next incarnation if we lived through our deaths?

Might be a really interesting place.

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Stumbling on a Sister: Memento Mori

Image: https://thecatholicwoman.co/letterstowomen/glimpses-of-eternity-sister-theresa-aletheia

This week, I’ve been writing a lot about how far off the rails our modern Western culture has gone in regards to All Hallows’ Eve this last century or so. For as much complaining as I’ve done, I also hope I’ve provided some ways in which you can bring a deeper, more meaningful, tranquil, reflective spirit to this sacred day.

Earlier this month, I stumbled upon a Sister...

No, not that kind of sister (I don’t have one). But a Roman Catholic Sister — a nun — that I came across on Instagram. This particular Sister is Theresa Aletheia and she’s wrapping up a 30-day series on Memento Mori (Latin: Remember, you will die) with posts such as this one…

It’s my favorite thing on the internet right now. And her story is an interesting one. Born into a religious family, she went hardcore Atheist in her teens then had a profound mystical conversion experience years later that brought her to the Sisterhood. Death and #mementomori is her main focus and I’m loving it.

Today, her mini-documentary (clocking in at under 8 minutes) went live on The Catholic Woman website. I wanted to share it with you here because it plays so well into what I believe the focus should be on All Hallows’ Eve.

Even if you’re not religious, methinks you might enjoy it anyway.

[embed]https://thecatholicwoman.co/letterstowomen/glimpses-of-eternity-sister-theresa-aletheia[/embed][embed]https://upscri.be/90caa9/[/embed]

How to bring the sacredness of All Hallows’ Eve into your home

Photo by freestocks.org

If you’re like me, you like the idea of Halloween, but you’re not too thrilled about the direction we’ve taken it in our culture. Maybe you’re at a place in life where the provocative costumes and rapey horror flicks no longer fit your idea of an enjoyable evening. Maybe you want a more quiet, contemplative, meaningful, reflective, and life-affirming Halloween.

Before I get into the meat of it here, as you may know, I am religious. I attend a progressive Lutheran church that will be practicing All Saints’ Day this coming Sunday. With that comes a number of rituals and ceremonies baked in.

However, if you’re not religious or if the churches in your locale make you cringe, I wrote this post so that you can bring back the sanctity of this evening in your home. I’ve pulled elements from All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day, Día de Los Muertos, and a couple other similar traditions that fall on or around this date.

[In case you’ve missed it, I’ve written previously this week about how we, out west, have fully lost our way with Halloween as a culture. You can catch up here and here.]

All this requires is a little openness and the desire for a new experience this dark night. Here we go…

1. Offer up prayers to the saints of your life

We have our saints in church and maybe you share a reverence for them. Either way, I’m sure there are people who’ve passed — some you’ve known, some not — who you consider to be saintly, in a sense. The thing I love so much about the saints is their humanity. If you read about their stories, you see that they weren’t sterile, sanctimonious, pious people. They lived real, flawed, gritty lives before they became saints (and often after).

Maybe your saint is your late grandfather who fought in WW2 and was a bit of a rabble-rouser but had a heart of gold. Or maybe it’s someone you’ve never met — a public figure or celebrity, perhaps.

If you don’t have a photo of them, print one out and put it in a nice black frame. Light a candle in front of it, sit, and contemplate what they mean to you. Rest in the silence of their presence for a while. It’s uncomfortable, indeed — especially for the first few minutes. But if you can get past the urge to jump back on your phone (the struggle is real), you’ll notice a calmness. Bask in it, if you can.

2. Don’t forget the living saints

Okay, there are people I’ve already deemed personal saints of mine who are still alive. For example, when James Taylor passes away (I don’t even like thinking about it), I’m going to be in mourning for a month. His music ties me right back to my childhood listening to Sweet Baby James with my parents and wearing his Greatest Hits tape out (yes, I said ‘tape’). I wish James Taylor was my uncle and I could learn to play guitar in his barn and go maple sugaring in the Berkshires with him. Call me basic, but James Taylor is a saint to me. As are a few personal friends and family who might be reading this that I don’t want to embarrass right now.

Print out some photos and light a candle for them too.

3. Eat light meals or fast

Fasting is part of the All Saints’ Day tradition, but you don’t have to take it that far. Eat lightly that day. Go with perennial autumnal plants like kale, rhubarb, asparagus, or leeks (in North America, at least). Big, joyous meals come a month from now. This is a somber time that calls for a bit of prudence when it comes to feasting.

That being said, to get the full experience, fast for the day. You can do it!

3. Channel your inner florist

I can’t believe I’m writing this. Flowers on Halloween? Yes, it’s true. I suggest you consider swapping out the blood-laden zombie prostitute figurines with flowers. I know, the LEAST Halloween thing of all, right? But really, flowers are a great contrast to the somberness of the candles and photos of dead people. One reflects the other. You don’t want to be a total downer on this day. Keep a balance with a strong floral element.

4. A smattering of skulls is good

If the floral recommendation is too bright for you, pepper in some skulls. Skulls keep the intent of remembering the dead without going into the perverse (as long as your skeleton isn’t performing some lude sexual act on another skeleton on your front porch).

5. Watch Coco

Come to think of it, everything I’ve talked about so far can be found (in essence, at least) in the movie, Coco. Seriously, this movie nails the spirit of this time of the year and I LOVE the ceremonies around Día de Los Muertos.

Coco was the first glimpse my 4-year-old daughter (at the time) had of death. The truth is, we have no idea what happens to our spirit when this body stops functioning. Anything we living humans say is mere speculation. So we’re going to make up a story regardless.

Well, I say let’s give kids a healthy story — not a bleak one (the nothingness of hardened atheists) or one based on judgment and wrath (the heaven/hell narrative of fundamentalist Christians). Coco allowed me to have a conversation with my daughter about death that was healthy. And with both of my parents on the other side of the flower bridge, we have that conversation more than a lot of families do.

6. Light a bonfire for Samhain

Let’s face it, our culture (yes, even modern Christianity) has deep pagan roots. No need to suppress or project it. It’s all a part of our story and some of us maintain pagan rituals and a pagan lifestyle today (some without even knowing it — the pagan roots of Christmas go deep). All good by me!

Samhain (meaning ‘summer’s end’) is a Celtic pagan holiday celebrated from October 31st to November 1st. It marks the halfway point between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice and is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals.

Bonfires are the biggest ritual of this holiday (at least of the ones that we can legally perform in the States). These bonfires were deemed to have protective and cleansing powers and there were a number of rituals involving them.

The souls of the dead were also thought to revisit their homes seeking hospitality. Feasts were had, at which the souls of dead kin were beckoned to attend and a place set at the table for them.

Hey, it sure beats getting drunk at a dive bar and passing out in a nondescript location on Halloween night. If you have space, get a bonfire going (and invite me over because having moved to Chicago from rural Nevada where bonfires were aplenty, I miss ‘em!).

7. Visit your local graveyard

I have a confession. I’ve never visited my mother’s grave and she passed away 23 years ago. I have my reasons, but I feel horrible about it. This holiday has made me make this a priority rather than another item on my someday-to-do list.

But maybe you’re not close to a graveyard where anyone you know is buried (me neither). If you can, make a trip to your closest one anyways. Take a meditative stroll through it. Read the headstones. Ponder who these people were — are — whose lives are showcased there. Pack a picnic with a blanket and a candle. I know, this sounds weird, but consider it. Graveyards are the most peaceful places around.

Let the death that surrounds you in a graveyard give you a new appreciation of your life.

Know that there is still time for you to do something with this living body of yours and the world that it comes into physical contact with. All of it is a blessing. Graveyards anchor this truth.

8. Tell (and listen to) stories

Okay, I’ll end on this one. So far, most of these have been fairly introspective (minus the Samhain bonfire). If you’re fortunate enough to be around others on this night, consider creating a space in the evening for getting in a circle and talking about loved ones who’ve passed.

No, this won’t fly at a rave or a sports bar. But if you’ve read this far, my guess is that you might place yourself in a different environment than that (if not, no judgment here — you do you).

Light cocktails are a good idea to provide encouragement (though you don’t need any slurring drunks droning on and on and ruining the vibe). Make this a sacred safe space. Turn the phones off. Give others your attention as they tell their stories. And take the necessary time to tell yours. Let the emotions freely flow, from laughter to sobbing (there will likely be both). And finish it off with a closing thank you to the group.

If you’re alone, speak your stories out loud or journal them. Get them out of your head. Speak them. Let the dead revisit you through your words.

In closing, the main theme here is to create a sacred space to remember those who’ve passed. Go ahead and be somber and reflective. Let this night be an excuse to contemplate the end of life so as to live the one you have to the fullest while you can.

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The cushion

The other day, I was sitting with my daughter on the couch. I forget what we were doing, probably watching another pony video on her iPad or something.

And it struck me. Intense. Existential. Sadness. Dread, in fact.

I don’t know if you’re a parent and if you’ve ever been smacked in the jaw with this notion, but I feel it’s an underlying one that we all dance with. One that, as soon as we see even a peek of it, we stuff it back down. Deep, deep, down where it can’t scare us anymore.

What hit me was the fact — the fact — that one day, I’m going to have to say goodbye to her. That one day, death will likely meet one of us first (hopefully me), and…

I won’t be able to look at her soft cheeks. Her little button nose. Her eyes that resemble gray/blue/green galaxies that swirl like twilight. I won’t be able to hold her marshmallow hand as we cross the street together. I won’t be able to follow her command to watch me, daddy again and again and again.

Even if she’s 40 or 50 or 60 when it happens, she’ll still be who she is to me.

This dread is so intense. I follow it down. I let it take me there.

Why are we put in this situation? All of us. The more our love increases, the more we dread this inevitable leavingness and the more the temporary nature of being a human becomes apparent.

I struggle to write this.

This loving dread passes over just as strongly to my wife. It carries across to my friends, my extended family — hell, even my dog…

Being a human is so… Sad.

As I write, and through fogged eyes, I feel I’m through it now. And I’m noticing…

That towards the bottom, beneath this dread, lies an underlying cushion. Something that tells me — a knowingness — that this is the illogical beauty of human love.

I see how wrong life would be without this sadness. And I feel blessed for following this dread to where it’s designed to take me.

Here.

Which makes me wonder how much we humans push away. A lot of our lot, on the surface, is dreadful. Temporary. Fleeting.

But I know now that there’s a cushion underneath this existential free-fall. There truly is beauty and mercy in this design. Because if we can love in the face of all of this, our souls can rejoice in the fact that who-we-truly-are is absolutely unstoppable.

We can love big in the face of it. We can love fully in the face of it. We can love regardless of the fact that it doesn’t make sense.

I’m also struck with the notion that there might be more. That we’re in this for the long haul. Although the idea of an afterlife is there, it’s merely speculation. But it feels true.

She’s waking up now, so I have to go say good morning. Give her a hug. Hope she won’t see my puffy red eyes and put two and two together.

And love. Because that’s what I am. And in spite of this bastard called human death, that’s what I’ll do.

Forever and ever. Amen.

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Death: The best teacher of life

Image: https://unsplash.com/@antisocia1

Back in the day, when we lived in huts and caves and small, darkish places, think of what that must have been like when grandma or grandpa died...

In most cases, they’d likely just lay down in the back of the hut and eventually pass away in front of you. Life, sickness, death, burial, and the ensuing traditions were all very intimate, spiritual rites.

Today, we keep death at arm’s reach. People usually die in hospitals.

Even if they pass in the presence of family and friends, their death is still largely handled by professionals in sterile white rooms.

Personally, to my sensitive ego, this is a good thing. I can’t handle death. I’ve never witnessed anyone take their last breath. I was insulated from my mom’s death. My grandparents all passed when I was away.

The closest I’ve ever come to witnessing a human death was caring for my dad during his final days. When his sickness became too much for me, he went to the hospital. When he died, I was called in shortly thereafter. I walked into the ICU to pick up his belongings and had to walk past his room. His door was cracked open just enough to where I could see his lifeless body.

That experience implanted something in my psyche. A deep regret. Something that remains unsettled to this day.

I feel I should have been there through his transition.

But thanks to the way we’ve set things up in today’s world, I had a choice to be there… Or not.

As nice and clean as this is, I feel like we’re missing something.

I feel that being closer to death might bring us closer to life.

Death is one of life’s best teachers. It puts things in perspective.

If we wall it off, it can haunt us like a ghost trapped in the wall. Like Poe’s Black Cat, the more we think we’ve protected ourselves against it, the more it wails and cries at us no matter how silent we think we’ve kept it.

Death never goes away, no matter how hard we try to protect ourselves from it.

We must make peace with death. Wholeheartedly sitting with a loved one through their transition can be one of the most transformative processes we can experience. As heart wrenching as this is, allowing life to take us through this process with eyes wide open (tearful and red as they may be) can deepen our life (and bring comfort to the one passing) like nothing else.

What lessons do we have to learn about life through death that we might be missing out on? If we saw the impermanence of this body up close — from sickness to passing to burial — how differently might we live our lives?

Wonder along with me for awhile…


Jonas Ellison is a spiritual writer, teacher, practitioner, and an interfaith minister-in-training. He helps people deepen their lives through applied spirituality while documenting his journey along the way.

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On losing a loved one

A personal account

Image: Erik-Jan Leusink

I’m at the age where I’m noticing more and more of my same-aged peers are starting to enter the phase of their lives where they’re faced with standing alongside loved ones through their death and transition. Not only that, but for whatever reason, it seems to be coming up more and more here with my Medium friends.

I was dealt the cards where I experienced death very closely from a young age. My mom made her passing when I was 16. Several aunts and uncles made theirs — as well as all of my grandparents — before I turned 30. And my dad passed when I was 34.

Death and I are close, indeed. We’ve had heated conversations, several times. As much personal experience as I have with death, when someone else goes through it with a loved one, I’m at a loss for what to say to make it ‘better’. It pains me to see them hurt each and every time and I wish there were magic words I could just utter to make the pain go away.

This, I’d say, is the divine dichotomy of death. It’s beautiful in that it hurts. I mean, would it really be appropriate to make it ‘better’? If you could snap your fingers and immediately feel awesome in the face of a loved one’s passing, would you?

I wouldn’t... To me, grieving and crying and punching walls and gnashing teeth feels totally appropriate and fulfilling.

I digress…

A few years ago, I wrote about the passing of my father. It was the grittiest, ugliest, most corporeal loss I’d ever encountered. The piece was the first time I shared anything this personal in public.

I posted it long before I started writing on Medium, so it didn’t reach as much of a crowd, but those who did read it told me how much it helped them work through their loss. Not in the ‘Here’s how to do it’ fashion, but the ‘I’ve been there too’ fashion.

Solidarity is the most soothing balm of loss.

I moved the story to Medium when I first started writing here, but again, not many people saw it. Just the other day, I realized it wasn’t under the Higher Thoughts publication, so I moved it there. However, it’s dated so far back that it’s not anywhere near the top.

So I thought it might be timely to re-share it here. Like many of my musings, it’s not a how-to post. It’s a personal account of a soul-wrenching time. If you happen to be going through a devastating event such as this, I hope you’ll see that you’re not alone.

Also know that deep suffering is the only thing besides Love that opens us up to transformation. Without our lives being torn apart, they’re impossible to rebuild. But from the rubble of loss, one can reconstruct a temple in honor of the one who’s fallen at our feet.

Here’s my story…

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Life before death

Image: Charlotte Coneybeer

Have you ever thought about what happens when our physical heart stops beating? You know, when we… die?

I have. I used to have the generic version of heaven with my whole family hanging out in the clouds drinking as much Mountain Dew as we wanted (because, at that time of my life, I was big into Mountain Dew).

Then that stopped making sense — and seeming like a lot of NOT fun — so my version changed and morphed which it’s continued to do until this day.

I think it’s a human thing. To contemplate our death. It’s all horrifying, really, no matter how you cut it. Eternal life in this physical body seems horrifying as does the end of the line.

Here’s my current stance about theories of what happens when we die…

It’s all speculation.

No. One. Knows.

No one. Even if you’ve read or heard the most convincing story from the biggest authority that resonates so hard with you — it’s still just speculation.

Sure, own it as your truth if it helps you live better. Which leads to my point…

I don’t care about death. All I care about is living before dying.

This is it. This is what I interpret ‘eternal life’ to mean. To live now and now and now (and now)… eternally.

I don’t want to spend much more time talking about what happens when this skin suit of meat and bone turns to dust. I’ve adopted a story of my own that suits me fine, but I also know I’m just making it up.

However, if you want to talk about how we can live the best life possible — like how we can really experience this ride in the most exuberant way before we kick the bucket, (whatever that really means)— hand me a glass, pour me a pint, and lets talk.


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It will never be okay (and that’s just fine)

Image: Nick Argyle

The calendar notification popped up in my phone today, “Date of Dad’s passing”.

He died three years ago, today. I thought twice about setting the notification up. Why would I want to remember such a horrid event? Was it such a great idea to evoke the demons that have haunted me since his passing?

Well, yes… It was a conscious choice to do this. See, my mom passed away many years earlier. Right now, as I write this, I wish I remembered the date. But I don’t. It was sometime in October, but that’s all I know. Sure, I could dig it up. And I probably will, especially after I write this. But not right now.

The goal of marking this date — this date of intense trauma and emotional upheaval — is not to add to my misery. Not to stoke the flames of resentment for days I wish like hell I could get back. Not to widen the gaping abyss where my dad once physically stood, but no longer does…

But to mark the anniversary of the date — as horrible as it was — when something in me transformed in a huge way. My choice is to use this day — this date marked in my calendar every year for the rest of my life — to acknowledge and meditate on the forging of my soul that it has cast on me.

This date marks a piece of me, changed forever. A piece that will never be the same as it was when I shared it with them.

I’m going to ponder this for awhile. Sit with it. What changed in me on this date three years ago, and has been changing since? I know it’s still changing. Like the shadow that travels through a freshly forged steel blade as the carbon turns to steel. My goal is to help this forging along. To make sure it heals correctly — not deformed and jagged like it very well could.

This work is up to me.

But for now, I want to take this time to point something out…

If you know someone who loses someone close to them, it can be really damn hard to have a conversation with them about it. Especially if you’ve never experienced a loss like the one they’ve been faced with.

You’ll want to keep your distance. That’s far more comfortable. But sometimes you won’t really have a choice. Perhaps this certain someone is your wife, husband, or best friend. There will come a point when you’ll have to talk to them for the first time following their loss.

It’s never an easy conversation. The thing that will be gnawing at you the most is that you’ll want to tell them that everything will be okay. But a certain part of you knows that it won’t.

Honor that truth. It’s the real deal. For this person, the part of them that aches so bad right now will never quite be okay. It may diminish in intensity. But the pain will never entirely go away…

And that’s perfectly fine. Sit with them in that space. Look as deeply as you can to see the part of them that’s red-hot at that moment. Like fire, its embers glow and crackle as they sob. This is it. This is the part of their soul that is transforming. But they need you to see it. They need you to know that it won’t be okay — it will never be okay — but they’ll be okay.

When they see that in your eyes, they won’t feel so lost. So swept away.

It’s nice to have an anchor (thanks, Alex Ellison).


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I don’t want you to rest in peace

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pennuja/5134122138

With all due respect, I really don’t think that would be a fitting future for you. Frankly, I think you’d get bored to just lay there, 6-feet under and… rest. I don’t think you’d be peaceful at all. Matter of fact, you’d probably be so antsy to go do something else, you’d go bonkers.

When you pass on from this form — when you leave behind this bag of skin and bone that you now occupy — I want you to keep going.

I know, it’s a little morbid, but I’m serious. I want you to go like hell (I didn’t say ‘TO hell’, mind you). I want you to go surf across some clouds, travel to other dimensions, or shake some things up in past lives.

If there is some big dude upstairs with a baller beard and a robe, I want you to look him in the eye and ask him to pull your finger. Just to see what happens.

I want you to continue your journey, whatever that is. I want to see you a few lifetimes down the road and I want to share a beer or three with you so you can tell me all the crazy shit you got yourself into (and about the above conversation).

But please. Don’t just lay there.


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Nightmare — On Dealing With The Passing of a Father

Night sweats suck. Many nights since my father passed a couple months ago, I’ve awoken with them. Sopping wet. Itchy. Disoriented.

The nightmare is always the same. My dad calls from the hospital and tells me he’s about to come home. He says he didn’t actually die.

I should be happy, but he tells me that he’ll require full time care and will need my help like before. Help changing his diapers, feeding him, giving him showers, cleaning up after him, emptying his catheter, doing his dishes, changing the dressing on his bed sores. I lay awake wondering if it’s actually happening and fall back to sleep before resolving it.

Rewind

My dad lived in our basement apartment for two months before he passed. He was unable to live on his own. Bladder cancer, when you let it go for as long as he did, becomes excruciatingly painful. My wife and I would hear him moan in agony and discomfort as we tried to sleep. I’d often be awoken by the disturbing slams of his bathroom door as he constantly went back and forth from bed with the uncontrollable urge to urinate.

Seeing him relegated to a childlike state was the hardest thing I’d ever been through. The man who once taught me how to throw a punch, ride a bike, fix a flat, and change my oil was now dependent on me to live.

A part of me knew his death was approaching. He knew too. It was an unspoken truth that neither of us could come to grips with and talk about. It came from the same place inside that said, in a strange but obvious way, that his death would actually be refreshing. Mainly for him. All the pain would be over. Like the last moment before falling asleep. A moment that changes from consciousness to unconsciousness in a forgotten instant. From strain to release. Or whatever happens when that switch is flipped.

But at the same time, another part of me thought he’d never die. You never really think it’s going to happen until it does.

Gnashing

I was cold towards him those last few days. Outright rude, actually. And he gave it right back. I didn’t have the time to work a full time job, be a freelancer on the side, spend time with my wife, and care for a man who didn’t plan for his final days, letting the responsibilities fall on me, his only son.

The day before Valentines day, we got in a huge fight. As he lay in bed, unable to get up, we exchanged harsh words that neither of us would have said if we could do it over again. I came home from work and went down to check on him. The room reeked due to his uncontrollable bodily function after his surgery to have his bladder removed and replaced by his small bowel. He fought the nurses in the rehab hospital tooth and nail to get out and didn’t fully recover because he was too stubborn. Back home now, he was too weak to get out of bed other than to attempt to make it to the bathroom before it was too late.

What infuriated me was that he seemed to do nothing to help himself. All the food my wife and I’d make for him would just sit there. Of course he wasn’t getting any stronger — he wasn’t eating or drinking anything. He complained about the taste of the food and how it wasn’t cooked right. I took it as a slap in the face towards us who were trying to help him just like he did to the nurses who tried the same. The same rage boiled up from inside that I experienced as a young man standing by my dying mother’s side half a lifetime ago. A rage that is so intense, but so uncontrollable, born out of love and fear of loss, causing immediate guilt and confusion.

I was done. Fuck it. If he didn’t want to eat, and just wanted to die, there was nothing I could do to stop him.

So I closed off. I let him know how selfish he was being and he let me know how cold and cruel I was being.

On the night of Valentines day, I went downstairs to check on him again. He lay in the same position as he had for what seemed like forever. Supine. The smell had worsened, but at least home care had changed his bed sore dressings so I didn’t have to that night. He mumbled his apologies. He was sorry for throwing the words at me he did the night before. “You’re my valentine, Jonas,” he mumbled in a oxycodone-induced haze, “I’m sorry.”

Those words pierced my soul. This was horrible. This whole situation. I was sorry too. I told him that. But I kept the wall up in order not to lose it right there. I tried telling myself to be empathetic, but just couldn’t quite do it. Come to find out later, the reason he wasn’t nourishing himself had nothing to do with stubbornness. Little did I know that in his gut lay a bacteria that would eventually be his end.

The Last Car Ride

The next day I took him to the doctor for a checkup. He could barely stand when I helped him get dressed. He was severely dehydrated and his lips were drawn back, exposing his teeth like a bulldog. The car ride was quiet. His breathing was heavy. It was awkwardness and discomfort at the highest volume I’d ever experienced.

I saw the look of deep concern from the doctor when he laid eyes on my dad. Quickly taking his pulse and blood pressure, he urged me to get my dad into the emergency room immediately. The combination of dehydration paired with an extremely high heart rate and low blood pressure was alarming.

I knew what was happening, but as soon as the thought emerged, I stuffed it down inside the warm blanket of my psyche to silence it. As we drove to the ER, I kept repeating to myself, he’s not dying. He’s not dying. He’s just dehydrated. He’s not dying.

After pulling the parking brake at the emergency room parking lot, I went around to help him out of the car. As he shifted his body to set his feet on the ground, I stood there, hands ready to assist him up. As I clutched his arms, he remained sitting there, staring at the sky.

That look on his face… That look will never leave me.

It’s like he knew that this was the last time in his present form that he’d experience the open sky. He gazed up with an expression encompassing both awe and consternation. Like a scared child. I didn’t know how to handle that look. Suppress. Suppress. Suppress. Don’t fucking lose it right here. Be in control. He needs your strength.

I got him inside and situated him in the ER. He sat in the wheelchair with that same frightened look that he had in the parking lot. I was overwhelmed whenever I looked at him. I couldn’t be there. He was fine, I told myself. I suppressed the fact that he was on death’s doorstep to the point where I did something that I’ll never fully forgive myself for...

I left him there in the waiting room. I wanted the social workers to realize he needed more help. That I wouldn’t always be readily available for him and that he needed full time care. With me there, they’d do like they did before, and assume that I could provide care for him. But I had a baby on the way with an incredibly busy schedule. I loved my dad to no end, but I physically couldn’t do this any longer.

So I left. I fucking left my father in the waiting room of the ER before he was even admitted. Deep down, I knew he was going to die. But I twisted reality around to make myself believe that he’d be okay. That I could just swing back by after work and pick him up after they put him on fluids for a while.

The pickup never happened.

They kept him in there. He passed a little over a week later. Earlier that day, I gave the command to the doctor that no son wants to give...

Do not resuscitate. Comfort care.

He was septic and in the ICU with an infected colon. Massive amounts of antibiotics were keeping him alive. Later that evening, he passed.

Epilogue

I write this to end the nightmare. Opening my veins and bleeding onto this page is cathartic and as much as part of me says to not open up, a bigger part tells me I should. I’m going to listen to that bigger part this time.

My ego is embarrassed to share this with anyone else, let alone the web, but I feel like it may give me some release and possibly add some value to your life.

James Altucher says to not publish anything that doesn’t scare you when you press the ‘publish’ button. Right now, I’m shaking. But I feel it needs to be done. With all pain comes a lesson learned. I know from experience that God reaches us through the holes in our soul. And if everyone was comfortable enough sharing their nightmares, I believe it would sooth the suffering of countless others. If sharing mine with you brings the nightmare to an end, I’ve succeeded.

I’m not sure what takeaways you can get from this story, but I’m sure there are a few. If you’re a parent, try to make plans for your last days. Make those nasty decisions so your kids don’t have to make them for you. Be the best human being you can be so you can have what you need to make these arrangements. Don’t leave it up to fate. Take charge of the upcoming sunset of life the best way possible. Share your stories and feelings with family, no matter how vulnerable you feel. Death comes to all of us and avoiding it doesn’t make it come any slower. Enjoy the short time you have with your loved ones and be hard on them to take care of themselves. Have those same high standards for yourself.

I hope my story moves you to do the right thing, whatever that is. Be well, and take care of those you love. If the day comes that you have to stand by a loved one’s side on their way out, be kind to yourself. Emotions will come up that seem wrong and unreasonable. It’s okay. Realize there’s only so much you can do and no matter how much your ego tries to take responsibility for what’s happening, you’re not to blame. No one’s to blame. It’s just the cycle.