The mountain in her austere aloofness and rocky splendour, rising abruptly from sea level and allowing between herself and the ocean only a narrow strip of earth for human habitation and movement, today wears that softening, unhurriedly shifting veil of low cloud cover that renders her mysterious and shy.
‘Tis a favourite sight for me. It soothes. Reassures. Allows for quiet nostalgia and solitary reflection. Hushes.
Today it allows me an inward glance that urges me to contemplate life in the wake of a death. Not just any death. That of my father. But still – death.
Euphemisms have no place when the topic is death, nor do they serve a purpose, for to postpone or avoid the naked truth is to simply miss the opportunity of coming to terms with finality.
Often we use this word in everyday communication, to describe something commonplace like a conclusion. Or an outcome. We confidently or impatiently declare that we want to reach or gain ‘finality’ on a matter.
Death is the epitome of finality.
Perhaps it is the irrevocability that sets it apart from other matters of so-called finality. Once it has set in, there is complete and utter silence – never to be broken again in this realm of awareness.
There is, after all has gone still, no way of prolonging warmth; or conversation; or mutuality; or eye contact, that mystical merging of a moment or many moments in time by securing a shared channel of visual, sensual, emotional awareness of other. There is no way of prolonging anything known or unknown in a three dimensional world – once there is the termination of life as we know it.
What is however strange, is that when expected, death is presumably always preceded by waves and surges of hope, even in the face of the inevitable. This is one of the mysteries of life: that hope lives on while life lives on…
When not expected, it most likely deals a blow that is so devastating that it is oftentimes denied and mistaken to be an illusion – for a while at least.
We know of the awakening of Lazarus from death even after a few days; and the raising of Jairus’ 12 year old daughter; and we cannot help but wonder intensely if our own loved ones’ eyelids may start fluttering again and their blood vessels start pulsating with restoration.
When they are no longer here, we continue to see them coming towards us… and then we don’t. We hear their voices. Their laughter.
The familiar fragrances of their hair, their clothes, their after-shave lotions and perfumes remain in our nostrils.
The film of Tabac on my father’s skin even in his final hours still emits the beloved manly and reassuring fragrance that I had come to know as a child. I may simply not ever have noticed it on any other man; but in my reference framework it is unique to my father. And will remain that way.
In the last days – sweltering midsummer days during which the heat also causes unease for my dying father – I am aware of the contradiction of seeing and feeling him slipping away, yet willing him to hold on and stay. Heart and mind are in conflict. The one knows; the other is aflame with senseless hope against all odds.
It is clear that his race is almost done. He has run it superbly and all we can do – all we are able to do – is to remain by his side, day and night, in relays: encouraging; reassuring; accompanying; knowing that finally he will have to cross the threshold – the Jordan – alone. Knowing that our journey with him will be over.
* * * *
Here I interrupt my halting thoughts to cycle at dusk; to breathe and reconnect with the new reality of only weeks.
What I see, is a manifestation of light and shadows and colour in nature… It makes me gasp.
- * * * * *
In the last hours his unease deteriorates into severe and painful discomfort. Almost visibly his body transforms. Racked with the painful agony of the terrible disease, what remains is the silent dignity I know so well. I cannot do anything to help and it tears me apart. When his eyes focus, they pierce ours pleadingly; his blue gaze, now fading, mirrors ours. He recognizes this. He does not want to leave us, we sense.
He is thirsty, but can no longer swallow. We drip cool water into the corner of his mouth and brush it across his lips. We sing. It makes him peaceful. We sing more. We pray. I clasp two of his handkerchiefs in my helpless hands. They are soaked with the tears I cannot hold back. I cry for my own imminent loss. And for the sadness and seriousness of my father’s condition. But mostly we tell him with strong voices that he has been and given more than we could ever have hoped for. He has been larger than life.
The shape of his face becomes less and less familiar as physical resilience ebbs and the threshold approaches.
We hold his hands. Amazingly, he holds ours.
The spasmodic breaths are further and further apart until almost impossible to perceive.
The last one… oh… It is so faint and so final. Or is it? How can it be?
The line is so thin. Only the double-edged sword can penetrate to divide soul and spirit.