My earliest memories involving my Dad center around home and going places. At home in the living room, he sat and smoked an endless succession of Kent cigarettes and read things. The other memories involve trips to exotic places. We left the house before the sun came up and went to a place with great smells and ordered bacon and eggs “sunny side up.” We came home and he said, “Surprise, we already had breakfast.”
We went to a place that was dark and cool and smelled like machinery and oil, and where he could use the tools. He did something while I kept touching the tools because they were very, very interesting. He packed up all the tools in the box and then said, “Watch your fingers.” I watched them but did not move them away, and when he closed the box, my finger was caught and bled. He wrapped it up in the snowy white handkerchief he always carried in his pocket. We went home and took care of cleaning and bandaging the wound.
Dad gave me my first meditation lesson although he called it “fishing.” It involved staring at a red and white bobber forever until it moved. When it moved, you had to be ready to pull and set the hook. Moving the bobber before it was pulled under by the fish was not allowed. Other related activities are watching grass grow or paint dry.
Dad taught me the names of different tools and how to use them. He taught me how to pull nails out of boards and straighten them. He claimed that he was a teenager before he became aware that people manufactured nails. Before then he thought the world’s supply of nails or at least the supply for rural Leroy, Indiana came from old boards and that if you ran out of nails, you had to find some old boards to get more.
Dad liked to sit in the late afternoon and have a cocktail while he read or talked. He always liked Jack Daniels, and as the years went on, his cocktail became standardized to Jack Daniel’s on the rocks with a splash. Once, after a trip to Lynchburg to see the distillery, he told me, “You know they have a statue of Jack Daniel there?” “He ought to have a statue.”
During the time my kids were growing up, there were birds who nested in the bushes in our yard. One time bluebirds, but mostly cardinals. When I would notice a nest, I would show the kids and then every once in a while, we would peak at the eggs, then the baby birds. As the season turned, the birds were pushed out of the nest and then after a few days or a week, all of them would fly away. The nest was empty. A dry husk. No longer needed. But I continued to glance that way. Sometimes I would creep up on the nest, just in case. Something in me kept hoping to see the birds.
Last fall, we had the pleasure of visiting Phoenix for a few days. We went to Sedona and the Grand Canyon with Mom and Dad. Dad switched to a pipe many years ago and he had decided to smoke outside while we were there. He still sat in the living room reading piles of different things. He still had his way with tools and we went to Denny’s where he ordered his eggs “sunny side up.” Mom told us that Dad had had a stroke earlier in the year but they did not call because “we didn’t want to worry you.” He had multiple health problems and multiple medicines that seemed to be a conspiracy against the body. He would still have his Jack Daniel’s every afternoon. For the past couple years, Dad has said goodbye as if each time might be the last. When I said goodbye, I said that we could check out the other vortexes at Sedona next time. He said, “I hope so.” He said it with a weariness that said he was not at all sure that his body would carry him safely to the next time.
When I heard that Dad had had a fall and that it was due to bleeding in the brain, I knew that this might be recoverable like the last stroke or it might be the event that would start the process he had been sensing, the process of leaving the body.
I meditate daily and have been trained in various techniques. I was meditating with a technique that involves visualizing each chakra (energy center) in the body in turn, while focusing on a color and a bija (seed) mantra for the chakra. While doing this meditation the day after Dad’s hospitalization, I worked my way through the lower chakras and noticed a moderate amount of activity at the Manipura (navel) chakra. The activity was there but was rather indistinct. When I moved up to the Anahata (heart) chakra, I sensed something I had not experienced before. It was Dad. Each chakra is associated with an energy center which is related to a nerve plexus in the body and an endocrine gland. The heart chakra is associated with the heart but also with the thymus gland. The thymus gland functions as part of the immune system and tells the body what is you and what is not you. When working correctly, it screens out the foreign invaders of disease. It also chooses what to let in. Who is closer than your own flesh and blood. The heart chakra knows who to let in.
Dad was there. He was also over two thousand miles away in a hospital room. His body was going through treatments and tests. His mind was trying to answer questions from the doctors and nurses and talk to people in the room. But his spirit had time to spend time with me. There were no words. There were no real images other than a quiet, smoky green color and sensing of the presence of another. There was the quiet aura of two old friends sitting together on a porch with no need to talk. Being there was what it was all about.
I continued joining the conference calls about the progress. The doctors did what they could. Mom, my brothers, my nephew, and their families did what they could. But each day, sometimes for extended periods of time, I spent my time with Dad. Creeping up on the smoky grey green of the heart chakra was like creeping up on the bird’s nest to see what was in there. On tiptoes. Quietly. And day after day, Dad was there. At times, the presence was disturbed but he did not want anything from me except to spend that time there in that smoky green place.
It was a Friday afternoon when Walter called and told me, “Dad had a setback.” He outlined what had happened and wanted to discuss Dad’s advanced directives. Dad had been very clear about his wishes with me, including extracting a promise that I should shoot him if he became mentally incompetent – a tall order for a pacifist who does not own a gun. But that was Friday. The night before, something had happened. I had been meditating and I got up and walked into the bathroom to take my vitamins before bed. As I looked in the mirror, I did not see my face. I saw Dad’s face. Or rather, it was my face but it looked like Dad’s face. It was a strange feeling. I walked out of the room like the old Red Skelton, Lucille Ball mime act and came back in and looked in the mirror and all was the same – Dad’s face. I have no explanation other than that he was with me. The next day, looking in the mirror just showed my face.
Things went up and down at the hospital. There seemed to be progress on infections but troubles and issues other places. I kept doing my meditation, creeping up the chakras the way I used to creep up on those bird’s nests. He was always there waiting for me in the smoky grey green of the heart chakra – until Monday night.
Eventually, you creep up on the bird’s nest and it’s empty and on Monday night, Dad was not there. He was not there on Tuesday morning either. The plan was to move Dad to hospice and try to remove the ventilator and see if his body could take over. I did not know exactly when this would happen, but I started to get the idea that Dad had already moved on in some way. Then on Tuesday night, I got the call that the transport to hospice had happened. The ventilator was removed and a spot of Jack Daniel’s was rubbed on his lips for a final cocktail. Within fifteen or twenty minutes, Dad’s body gave up.
Bird’s don’t reuse nests. They build a new one. Once they leave, they are gone and not coming back. That did not stop me from creeping up and sneaking a peek in the old nests sometimes, just in case. Every day since that Monday, I have crept up on the heart chakra. I search every corner of that smoky grey green place, looking for Dad. Maybe next season. . .