There is a feeling of comfort that arises around visiting a loved one in the hospital. As you drop everything else in your life, your reality shifts to become the hospital. You begin to learn the names of the nurses and cafeteria workers, exchanging smiles with the same people daily. Peculiarly, you almost start to feel at home. When you wake up you feel that you must instantly head straight to the hospital, as if you’re wasting precious minutes that could be spent sat beside your loved one. Time loses all meaning other than the time you are with them and the time you are without them.
I quickly learned to love the small things, like fluffing his pillow or adjusting the shades if it was too bright or dark for his liking. You form a routine – a routine with purpose. While you may not be able to heal your loved one, you can care for them. I loved to sit and watch him sleep, my eyes on the shallow rise of his chest as he breathed. When he would awaken, I would be there. My life consisted of observing his.
“It was beautiful to see a man, so close to death, being so full of life and humour in his storytelling.”
Sometimes, due to the strong medication he was on, he’d become delirious and confused. He would mix facts, memories and fantasy as he wove the most wonderfully surreal tales. At first, we tried to keep him lucid and correct his errors – as if it would help to keep him here with us. But as time went on, we began to join him in his reality, riding alongside him as he so imaginatively narrated his stories. It was beautiful to see a man, so close to death, being so full of life and humour in his storytelling. Often times he would tell us about late night visits he’d had from loved ones who had died already or that we’d lost contact with years ago, and he’d usually have a humorous anecdote of where they had been or what they’d gotten up to. One morning, he had had breakfast in Vienna after a fabulous dinner in Florence the night before. At times he would suddenly become Scottish and talk about his little cottage (bothy) on the moors and the fishing he had been doing there.
On his last day, I was sitting with my eyes closed in a chair beside his bed. I wasn’t asleep, but nor was I what is commonly referred to as awake. I found myself in a beautiful field of poppies and tall grass that sloped up a big hill. Through the middle of the field led a path, the grass recently parted as if someone had climbed it recently. I began to walk up the hill and saw in the distance a white wrought iron table and chair set, upon one of which sat a man with his back to me. As I reached the top, he turned around, his face glowing with a warm smile. He looked so much younger and healthier than I could remember him being – but it was unmistakably my Father. No glasses, no wrinkles and his teeth were straight and white. I asked him where his glasses were and he replied, “You don’t need glasses, so now neither do I, as I exist within you. Take care of yourself and you will take care of me.”
As he lay deep into his final slumber, I decorated him with flowers I had picked from beside the road on the way in. He looked so regal amongst the bright oranges, purples and greens and it felt very appropriate to adorn him with the beauty of the earth as he was so close to his return to it. He died the day after.
“What was I meant to do with my days now? What did I used to do before this all happened? Was I even still the same person?”
The moment he died it felt like an enormous weight had been lifted, but in the same way I had lost my one and only Father. I had also now lost the life that had so quickly overridden my life before. What was I meant to do with my days now? What did I used to do before this all happened? Was I even still the same person? When I awoke the morning after, I felt so very unclear as to what I was to do with the hours awake before I could go to sleep again.
It’s so hard to fathom that someone that was such a vital part of your life could just cease to exist. On and off throughout life, a close friend may lose a parent, and out of denial, our mind blossoms the hope that our parents will never die – or at least that when they do it won’t be for a very, very long time.
The week after he died, I was filled with an almost holy feeling. Everything seemed so light, bright and full of meaning. I would watch birds flying overhead and become them, feeling the twists and turns of their flight deep in my soul. I would place my conscience into the trees and sway with them in the wind. I was totally at one with the world around me.
Of course, there was an undeniable sadness in the background of all moments, but the beauty that shone through always seemed to take the foreground. During that sacred period, I began to see all sorts of patterns and transcendent coincidences in the world around me, as if he were sending little bursts of support from wherever he was now. I wasn’t really seeing people, instead opting to go on little excursions alone. It felt like being on my own was the best way to be close to him.
When you know and love someone with all of your heart, you can tap into the essence of who they were as a person. I could converse with him internally, tell him about my day, or ask him for advice – and because I knew him so well, he would answer from within me.
After a couple of weeks though, the peace began to subside, making way for a deep sorrow. All that I had been pursuing in life suddenly felt totally meaningless and irrelevant, like I was an imposter playing the role of myself before it had all happened. I was starting to lose the feeling of closeness to him, and it hurt immeasurably to realise. The holy energy that had kept me flying shortly after his death began to fade quickly into lethargy. The things that had given me comfort and meaning before were all disappearing into a bottomless abyss of “what’s the point?”
I was beginning to feel that the only place I wanted to be was in bed asleep. On one particular week, I went round to his house and “existed” – for I cannot say I truly lived – between his sofa and his fridge. I numbed myself with endless movies and video games, eating my weight in whatever I could rustle up in a couple of minutes. I felt guilty for wasting the life that I was lucky enough to still have left, but at the same time completely powerless to pick myself up and change anything. Intermittent memories of him would flash across my mind and I would physically wince in agony; my heart repeatedly breaking. It was impossible to turn off the TV, as the silence and lack of stimulation made me feel so much more alone.
One night about a month and a half after he died, I dreamt of him. I was in a school rolling a long carpet down a hall when I looked up to see him standing there watching. As our eyes met, he looked startled and withdrew into a wall, pressing his back and arms up against it – as if to blend in. I told him that I could still see him and he just stayed there, cheekily smiling pressed up to the wall like a reverse gecko. When I awoke the morning after, I felt so relaxed and full of joy. Even if it was a dream, it was nonetheless very special to see him. I haven’t dreamed of him again since, but I can vividly remember how he looked at me and it gives me immense strength.
“We must learn to wholly accept suffering if we wish to really appreciate what we have.”
I had said to my housemates in LA just before catching my flight home that I was determined to make the most of his death, as you can only lose your Father once. Looking back on it, I am so pleased that during his decline and ultimate death I was there for it all – really there. I wanted to experience everything, no matter how difficult or painful.
For as long as I can remember, but more so now than ever, I often find myself feeling blue. Like a yearning for something that I will never again be able to experience, a missingness deep in my being. This feeling of melancholy is my muse for all that I create, particularly my music.
To explore the dark side of the heart is to grasp the magic and joy of life. To embrace darkness is to be truly honest with oneself that life is inherently difficult and that suffering is a core component of being human. It endeavours not to hurt you but instead, allow you the chance to be truly alive – here and now. We must learn to wholly accept suffering if we wish to really appreciate what we have.
Hope cannot exist without despair. Courage means nothing without fear. I am grateful. I am alive.