Handsome elderly man in a red sweaterMy Dad died on August 1st.

Death has all sorts of approaches. It hits you like a tidal wave the moment it happens, then sucks you down like quicksand as you meet other people who loved him too. It lulls you into forgetfulness and then punches you in the stomach when you open the fridge to get the mustard.

There is no moment safe from its presence. It hovers like a shadow waiting to engulf you and there is no preparing for it, so don’t kid yourself.

I learned that the hard way when my Mom died seven years ago. I thought I was ready because she’d had Alzheimer’s Disease for the past 15 years and we all felt we had lost her long since. But Death snatched her away and then turned back to laugh at us: “You still had her all those years. Now she’s really gone.

So it was with Dad. In the end, he, too, had grown forgetful and confused and his care was more and more difficult. He was in an assisted living place where he was well looked after and he had many, many visitors. But though he was happy, he grew more and more muddled.

He would start a story and he would be animated and eager to tell it. Then two or three words into the first sentence he would suddenly go blank. Sometimes he would keep trying, helplessly stringing sounds together as if hoping the meaning would emerge by magic; sometimes he would just grin and shrug as if to say he’d done his best.

For years he had been saying he was ready to go. Yet he remained the life of the party – ready to joke, sing, dance and tell silly stories to anyone who would listen. He played with the dogs. He clowned with the kids. He flirted with the staff. He was not ready to go anywhere.

And then, all of a sudden, he was.

He grew quiet. He withdrew to some other realm. The change from when I saw him last December to my next visit in May was dramatic. Now he was ready.

So when Mary called in July to say that he had had a stroke, even though it was only six weeks since I had returned from my last trip, Ravi said: Just GO. I booked a ticket instantly, without a moment’s hesitation. I called my amazing travel agent Sudhir Rana after midnight and he worked wonders to get me on the very next flight.

Wonders. The long drive to Dehradun. The endless hours in Delhi waiting for the flight. The flight itself. Nine hours to Frankfurt. Two hours in the airport. Seven hours to Boston. Baggage claim. Customs. Immigration. The drive to New Hampshire. 37 hours door-to-door.

Have you read the poem by Sharon Olds about her own journey to get to her father’s death bed in time? This was me on that long, long journey home:

The Race

When I got to the airport I rushed up to the desk,
bought a ticket, ten minutes later
they told me the flight was cancelled, the doctors
had said my father would not live through the night
and the flight was cancelled. A young man
with a dark brown moustache told me
another airline had a nonstop
leaving in seven minutes. See that
elevator over there, well go
down to the first floor, make a right, you’ll
see a yellow bus, get off at the
second Pan Am terminal, I
ran, I who have no sense of direction
raced exactly where he’d told me, a fish
slipping upstream deftly against
the flow of the river. I jumped off that bus with those
bags I had thrown everything into
in five minutes, and ran, the bags
wagged me from side to side as if
to prove I was under the claims of the material,
I ran up to a man with a flower on his breast,
I who always go to the end of the line, I said
Help me. He looked at my ticket, he said
Make a left and then a right, go up the moving stairs and then
run. I lumbered up the moving stairs,
at the top I saw the corridor,
and then I took a deep breath, I said
goodbye to my body, goodbye to comfort,
I used my legs and heart as if I would
gladly use them up for this,
to touch him again in this life. I ran, and the
bags banged against me, wheeled and coursed
in skewed orbits, I have seen pictures of
women running, their belongings tied
in scarves grasped in their fists, I blessed my
long legs he gave me, my strong
heart I abandoned to its own purpose,
I ran to Gate 17 and they were
just lifting the thick white
lozenge of the door to fit it into
the socket of the plane. Like the one who is not
too rich, I turned sideways and
slipped through the needle’s eye, and then
I walked down the aisle toward my father. The jet
was full, and people’s hair was shining, they were
smiling, the interior of the plane was filled with a
mist of gold endorphin light,
I wept as people weep when they enter heaven,
in massive relief. We lifted up
gently from one tip of the continent
and did not stop until we set down lightly on the
other edge, I walked into his room
and watched his chest rise slowly
and sink again, all night
I watched him breathe.

Sharon Olds

I made it. He was alive when I walked into his room. He opened his eyes and he smiled at me. I sat beside him and I watched him breathe. The air shimmered golden and I breathed with him, ready now to let him go.


Showing 4 comments
  • Joyeeta Bandyopadhyay

    somewhere while reading your post, I very selfishly grieved silently for my parents too whom I lost very early in life..no one knows the value of one’s parents more than the one who has lost them…My prayers for your father…and wishing courage to the loved ones he left behind…thanks also for sharing the poem..such aptly expressed words

  • Indrani Bordoloi

    May your father rest in peace Jo Ma’am… I know how strong you are as a person …

  • Dr. Laurie Johnson, LPC

    What an incredible gift that he delayed his departure until you could get there. What love. There you were, racing to make your connections, while he was postponing his. What a loving father. May you feel him ever so close, Jo. In every moment you need him most.

  • Nandita DeSouza

    Dearest Jo, Being with our loved ones in their final moments is one of the greatest gifts to hold in our heart. Saying goodbye can be very hard but not being able to say it is even worse. You will miss your Dad terribly and the grief will hit you again and again at unexpected moments. However there will also be a strong sense of comfort in it, that you remain connected, always your father’s child, carrying his precious legacy forward. Hugging you tight, orphan to orphan.:-) Love you.

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