Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
-Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi
Roughly two weeks ago I received a call from my father. He had been to the hospital again only this time he did not recover per the usual and they had released him to hospice. I couldn’t even make it through the call. That word. Hospice. My God. I was gripped with pain and grief so immediate and so violent, I felt my ribs pull apart, my heart collapse in on itself and all of the air inside me fled into this sound… I don’t even know what that sound was. Something deeply silent escaping through a mouth stretched open to its limits baring teeth and gums punctuated by small gasps of wailing anguish. Yeah, something like that.
I was at work. That kinda sucked.
I spent the next 24 hours indulging the grief. Descending into a desperately insane neediness, begging for someone to come and fix it. Make it feel better. Now! Anyone. Anyhow. I didn’t care! The rawness of the emotion fiercely intense and completely impossible to ignore. I even considered a chemical solution. A pill, a drink, a joint. Not to get high… but the oblivion of it. The relief that the darkness of blackout brings. Dangerous territory.
Then all of a sudden this thought came. Not even a thought. A word. God. It slowly descended upon my consciousness in a wave of peace gently erasing all that crazed terror in its path. My heart and my mind cleared. Serenity and sanity prevailed. I saw that I was suffering from a severe form of self-centered fear. I was afraid of losing my dad. I simply didn’t know how I would do life without him. He is my rock, my foundation, my everything. Me! Me! Me! Did it matter that he might be in pain? That he might be suffering? That his quality of life may have been so compromised that he was no longer even himself? Selfish!
I am forever the champion of allowing everyone their journey with the universe. Of trusting the universe and It’s Divine Wisdom implicitly. Except it would seem when it came to Dad’s transition. For some reason I seemed to think that I get to have a say in that one. I saw then that this was just like every other moment in my life when I simply had to trust. Trust that my father and God could make this decision without the benefit of my input. In reality this had nothing to do with me. My job was to support him and love him and be present for him in this moment. Nothing more.
It was then that I found myself in a state of merciful grace which upheld me and carried me through this journey. I was now being carried by God and I knew it. For the first time I understood, really understood, what it meant to have God work through me and for me. The pain remained but was accompanied by a state of peace so deep and complete that the pain no longer moved me. Instead, I began to move it. With conscious intention it was acknowledged, valued, breathed into and purposefully breathed right back out.
I got into action. Calls were made, information was gathered, flights were booked. Then another call came. “Rachel, it’s worse than we thought. He wants to die. I’m not sure he will hang on much longer. The doctor says it could be tonight. You better come right away.” Once again I was overtaken. Sobbing.
Will I not even have the opportunity to say goodbye to my most beloved relationship? This man did not just father me. He saved my life. He loved me when no one else would. He never, ever turned his back on me. Not in the depths of my addiction. Not when I stole from him, mistreated him, yelled at him, abused him. Not ever. He only ever welcomed me back home with open arms and a loving heart. He loved me right where I was and never expected anything more or less than I was willing to give. His love was never accompanied by strings, expectations, guilt, or grievances. He is the very definition of unconditional love. And now he is going away forever. Will I make it in time?
A friend reminded me that the God was in charge of that. Big sigh of relief. Oh that’s right. I forgot again. My job is to take the next indicated step and leave the rest of it to God. I’m not in charge here. This is not about me.
Flights were rearranged. It was then that I really began to think of his legacy. What is the gift my father leaves with us? How have we all benefited from knowing him? What can I do to honor him every day? I realized that he treated almost everyone with the same amount of compassion and love that he gave to me. In fact, there was an entire team of people back home in Miami that were running around like mad to do everything possible for him. They were advocating for him, moving him into their home, making his arrangements, watching over him, sitting up with him, feeding him, making sure I was being kept in the loop, wishing and praying every moment, right along with me, that he not be taken from them just yet.
I hopped on the plane and I began to ask God what It would have me be in this situation. What could I bring? What could I give? The prayer of St. Francis came to me. I clearly saw that my purpose was not only to be there for my father but to also be there for the people that love him and are so willing to give every last bit of themselves to care for him. All of their time, all of their resources, all of their energy. I was to be a bringer of love, peace, light and comfort to the very best of my ability. I was to face calamity with serenity and I was to do my best to keep God at the center of this experience.
I arrived in Miami on Tuesday morning at 7am and left on Friday at noon. The events that transpired over the course of those 3+ days have left me filled with an incredible sense of the Universe always at work… in every breath, moment, experience, person… in every everything. The sheer volume of “God shots” or “Godincidences” cannot even be recounted. I can’t even remember them all! There were so many, one right after the other. I carried with me this persistent sense of being guided and directed in a story the Universe had already written. A story which was brimming with the power of love and the effect of faith.
In fact, it began on the car ride from the airport. Having just come off a red eye, being exhausted and needing to get awake we made coffee a priority. Luckily Miami produces a coffee that is the equivalent of rocket fuel. Cuban coffee (Colada), is so potent it comes with a stack of shot glasses. We made a beeline for the nearest gas station (Yes, that’s right. This delicious nectar can be found at just about any gas station!) More importantly, I walk through the door and the very first person I see is J. Who is J? Well let’s see… long-time family friend and top notch member of the daddy recovery team… that’s who. And what is J doing at this completely random gas station in Miami that is not anywhere near where my father is? Why… he’s there to get me coffee!!
I’m sorry… WHAT?!
It was like this the entire time. It never ended. The constant reminder that God is at work, that everything is being taken care of, there is nothing to worry about, everything is happening exactly as it should.
I finally arrived at the location where my father had been moved to. Even though he almost didn’t survive the move it had to be done. My dad is poor. Like really poor. He lived by himself in the equivalent of a shack that got robbed at least once a month. He just couldn’t be left there anymore. So another friend offered her home and resources to him. A beautiful four bedroom home on the water with plenty of space not just for dad… but for his entourage that came right along with him. Just so happened that daddy got his own room, with his own bathroom and two extra beds in the room for my oldest son and I to sleep on. It all worked perfectly.
Another friend had taken charge of tracking medications, nurses, aides, social workers, agencies, medical equipment and had taken it upon herself to stay up with him all night keeping watch. She had written everything down and had it all ready for me so that I could jump right in.
J had taken charge of errand running, packing up dad’s house, and handling general affairs. Yet another friend brought food, kept dad company and took charge of planning the arrangements for his final transition.
Despite the complete selflessness of his friends I could see right away that they were stressed and exhausted. I could tell the fear was weighing on them just as it had on me. I could feel their worry and the effect that it was having. They were getting worn down by it and some defects of character were coming out to play. Things were getting a little tense. All pretty normal in a situation like this but I knew that I was here to offer relief. I could see that behind the tension was fear and behind the fear was a loyalty of love so fierce they were willing to sacrifice themselves (and put up with each other! LOL) in service to my father. He had loved each and every one of them the exact way he had loved me. I understood how they felt. It didn’t take much to release the tension and restore some balance. A gentle reminder of how my father loved us all and the suggestion that we should all love each other in exactly the same way was all that was required.
Everyone kind of started to chill out. We worked together to care for dad and to facilitate the non-stop stream of visitors that came to see him. I heard “Your father saved my life.” at least fifty times in those three short days. The outpouring of love and service from his community flowed through the home like a torrent carrying with it a healthy dose of good vibes and healing energy.
On Wednesday afternoon I received a message. A good friend and spiritual practitioner from my church was stranded at the airport in Miami and needed a place to stay.
I’m sorry, WHAT?!
I hopped in the car and got him straight away. Upon our arrival to the house I received a slew of calls and felt myself beginning to succumb to my temper. I hung up the phone and practically dragged my friend outside for prayer. There we sat in the warm drizzling rain holding hands, talking and praying. I am so very human and full of all of my own failings and so the Universe aligned to provide me with exactly what I needed, right when I needed it to keep me on the beam.
That evening we were all out in the living room. A motley crew of loved ones coming together from all the parts and pieces of me and dad’s life filling this home with love and holding a space of healing and joy. We were laughing, joking, talking and being loud because we refuse to take anything to seriously, even death. All of a sudden we look up and who’s standing there? Daddy. Hands on his hips, twinkle in his bright blue eyes, looking around and checking out the action. Everyone cheered! He didn’t stay for long. Just a minute then he had to make his way back to bed. But I knew it right then. He was going to be okay. I collapsed against the wall and sobbed. Big, huge, gushing sobs of relief and gratitude.
He improved just a bit each day that I was there and by the time I left we had gone from making plans for his final arrangements to making plans for his long term care. I had thought that I would return home with a broken heart but instead returned with a heart full to bursting with love, hope, awe and gratitude. I find myself cemented in the knowledge that the Divine Plan is so much smarter than my own. I know in the very depth of my soul, in that secret place where Truth makes its home, that my father’s recovery is entirely the result of the outpouring of love and support from his family and community. My father has given so much love to others and his efforts came back to serve him. This is the way the Universe is always at work. If we pay attention we can always see it. We can find the Divine Plan at work in every nook and cranny of our experience. It is always there waiting to be noticed.
It should be said that my father is an atheist. He does not believe in God and if he ever reads this post it will be accompanied by quite a bit of eye rolling, I can assure you. He too is so very, very human and that is my favorite thing about him.
Before he fell ill my father had a daily practice of sending “good morning” messages out to a whole slew of people. It was a thing. We all talked about it and joked about it and when they stopped coming I felt a sense of loss at their absence. Before I left I reminded him not to forget his “good morning” service work. I let him know I fully expected to see one soon.
This morning I got it. The first one.
“Morning. Think I’m getting better.”