As I sailed across the Salish Sea I learned that my father passed away.
I had taken a calculated risk by leaving town to complete my sailing certification course in the San Juan Islands. The hospice nurse thought he had a couple of weeks of life left.
Halfway through my class while docked at Friday Harbor I received a call from the nurse who sounded like she wanted to cry. She apologized as she told me she had been wrong about how long he would live and that he was now code pink and on a daily watch.
I had no chance of getting home right away. I just had to pray that he would wait for me or accept that I had already said my goodbyes before I left.
I called my wife and she confirmed what the nurse had said. With tears in my eyes and a choked up throat I asked her to put the phone to my father’s ear. I was blessed with him having a moment of clarity where he heard my voice as I told him I loved him. I could hear him whisper, I love you son.
It was the last conversation I will ever have with my father in this world.
I lost more than cell reception for the next 48 hours.
All day Thursday as I sailed across Rosario Strait I had a feeling that he had left this world. I thought about the gift he had given me by teaching me photography back in high school and later on when we opened a studio together on the south hill.
I kept hearing the lyrics of the song Leader of the Band by Dan Fogelberg where he talks of his life being a poor attempt to emulate his father. My love of photography and teaching comes from him.
When we arrived at our final mooring my phone regained service and vibrated with a text message from my wife telling her to call asap. I excused myself to my v-berth and made the call. I knew what was coming. She told me that my father had died peacefully.
After more than three months of struggle he was finally at peace and my heart was broken.
A parent is someone a child thinks of as eternal and infinite. He was something that existed before I was born and was part of the always been and always will be categories in my mind.
Thoughts about the eternal and infinite come about when I look upon rock formations and ancient primordial forest. Staring at stars and thinking about light years and the possibility of a single moment of creation can warp my brain. Logic fails at some point and a faith takes over as a means of making sense.
A few weeks ago when my father was in the hospital we had a good conversation about death and dying. He had been diagnosed with dementia and heart failure but had intermittent ability to hold a conversation.
He told me he was beginning to have experiences of seeing his mother again. We reflected upon how fast our lives transpire and how quickly his 84 years and my 53 years had passed. Now as he was experiencing the presence of his mother again I thought about how perhaps this is all just one blink of an eye.
Perhaps his death will be nothing more than a momentary blip of darkness as I blink and open up to my own mortality at the end of my life.
Will I see him again as he had begun seeing his mother? I have no way of knowing but I suspect I will. He hasn’t really left me as I continue to experience his presence within me.
I feel blessed that in the end he knew he was loved by his entire family. And yet I also feel profoundly sad. Something that always was in my life is now gone.
I am most grateful that I took the time to make this portrait of him in my studio downtown five years ago. A week later he went into the hospital for the first time and was never the same. I knew it was the beginning of his final chapter of life and I was grateful that I could celebrate it with this monument to him. The portrait hangs in my studio and he continues to watch over me.
I have a friend who always says to me, don’t sweat the little stuff… and it’s all little stuff. The death of his father taught him that. While I would agree with him in my verbal response, I don’t think I fully embraced it until now.
At the time of my father’s passing I realize how important these past three months have been for learning more about the power of love and kindness. My father’s passing was a beautiful chapter that has inspired me to want nothing more from life than to share kindness with others and make each day’s journey towards the end filled with love and gratitude.
Thank you for teaching me this lesson dad. I love you.