October 15, 2012

B-STRONG ~ facing death

Dad & Marti surrounded by our family, August 2012
a week ago i watched my dad pass away.  he had been lying in a hospice bed in the living room of his home for 7 days without food or water.  his body had been overcome by lymphoma.  two weeks before his passing he could no longer feed himself or move his body due to extreme weakness and pain.  he was given morphine on the day that he refused to swallow anymore, so he was almost lifeless for a week except for brief moments of semi-consciousness where he would open his eyes, raise his eyebrows or move his lips a little bit as signs that he was still aware of his surroundings despite being unable to communicate.  by the last two days of his earthly life, these outward signs of communicate were no longer apparent and i had to rely on trusting that he could still hear my voice..

i arrived 3 days before his passing, staying by his bedside as often as possible.  i could not think of leaving the house, nor did i have any desire to do so.  i spent many hours praying silently and softly in his ear or by his side.  i massaged his neck, hands and feet, and gently rubbed shea butter cream onto his face.  sometimes his lips needed to be moistened.  the inside of his throat was dying but the home health aid used a medicinal swab to wipe his teeth and gums.  by the last morning of his life, the nurse commented that she had never seen anyone live longer than 5 days without water and food..

my dad's license plate was 'B-STRONG'.  his life was all about loving God and trusting in God, from Whom all his strength came.  his motto, 'be strong' was a tribute to his surname, Strong, and how to be, or how to live this life.  this was personified all throughout his fight against lymphoma.  this past year, especially, was full of complications, surgery, falls, hospital stays, emergency room visits, needles and procedures, doctor appointments and follow-ups, and pain that can never be measured -- but my dad never complained!  he was spiritually strong every single day, giving praise to God, relying on God and trusting in God.  he emitted joy and constantly joked in a lighthearted manner.  in his tiredness or weakness he would apologetically choose to have no visitors or stay home instead of attend an event -- and as he was continually visited by family and church family, he made them feel happy and loved even though he was exhausted or suffering in pain.  even to the last week of his conscious life, while his mind was now often forgetful and confused and his body was overcome with pain, he would say he was 'fine' or 'doing well'.  this is how he showed all of us to 'b-strong'..

this is my account of the last day of his life:
at 4:30am i arose to pray that morning.  for the first time i opened the prayer book to the prayers for the departed, preparing my soul to pray for his soul.  afterwards, in the darkness, with the loud sound of the oxygen machine running, i came to his bedside and wept for over an hour, emptying my heart to him, whispering to him, praying for his soul..my heart ached for the pain and long-suffering he’d endured these past 2 years, but especially this year, not being able to drive, to walk, to go to church, to play ball, to go fishing, etc. – all the while being so radiant and light-hearted and joyful..

that time with dad felt the closest i have ever felt to him as a soul.  i could feel his spirit hanging on to see my husband, dashiel, and our children.  by late morning, dash and the kids arrived and greeted him with all of their love.  shortly thereafter, the hospice nurse came for the first time since he’d been put on morphine.  she was the one who predicted he would pass away within a week.  soon after she left i noticed for the first time that dad’s extremities were no longer warm – one of the final signs that death is imminent.  we lovingly expressed to him that finally we were all here with him, and that we were awaiting his reunion with God..

a few hours passed before noticing he seemed restless and that it was time for more morphine.  it was 4:30pm.  within a few minutes, a slight gurgle turned into a constant gurgle.  my aunt determined that this indeed was the ‘death rattle’.  i called my step-mom, marti, to come.  she brought the Bible and tearfully recited some of the holy verses to guide his soul in this process.  we then called the family to come together for prayer and loving support.  we all stood around his bed listening to the difficulty of his breathing, aware of the coolness of his hands and feet, aware that the hour of ascension was upon us.  marti hugged dad’s head and kept showering her assurances of the glory of heaven and dad’s returning home to God as the tears poured forth from her eyes.  from the depths of her heart she said how she’s always loved him and how she always will, and that she will see him soon.  we each took our turn by his head and hand to express our love.  we stood in silent prayer for some time while my aunt hummed a hymn.  we all entered a moment where we felt that he was going to continue to be like this so my sister and i left him to begin preparing dinner.  a few minutes later his breath changed and we ran back over..

this is when time stopped and our family entered a moment that we cannot fully recount.  standing side by side, each of us touching a part of dad’s body, we listened closely and tenderly to each very slow breath that he took.  the gurgle was gone.  our eyes and hearts were fixed upon helping his spirit leave his body.  tears softly flowed from our eyes.  then my sister asked me to offer a prayer. 

i offered,
"Whatever God hath willed hath been, and that which He hath not willed shall not be.  There is no power or strength except in God, the Most Exalted, the Most Mighty.”
“Is there any Remover of difficulties save God?  Say: Praised be God!  He is God!  All are His servants and all abide by His bidding.”

after a few moments i asked our daughter if she could sing, ‘This Earthly Plane’ by Elika Mahoney.  the melody and words seemed to permeate the inner recesses of our hearts with such penetrating power that surely dad’s soul was uplifted from the sorrow and suffering that his body had endured for so long.   at certain moments each of us switched positions with others to be near to his face.  i was able to have this bounty when dad’s breath became very, very soft and slow.  i put my hands upon his cheeks and said goodbye.  i offered one last prayer in his ear and then gazed into his glassy eyes.  at this moment, my sister asked our daughter to sing, Amazing Grace.  as she soulfully began to sing, we all witnessed as he gently and ever so softly took in his last breath.   i touched his chest and confirmed that there was no more heartbeat.. the time was 5:40.

the peace, the serenity, the solace, the tranquility, and the complete rest of my dad’s body had finally come.  our tears were for his suffering and for ourselves, recollecting and remembering the myriad of ways he touched our lives and many other lives.  we hugged each other and consoled each other and acknowledged his soul’s release from the cage of his worn body.  it felt surreal.  it felt deeply heart-wrenching yet deeply confirming.  his life was a testimony of faith and love for God that he served as an example to all of us for how be one of God’s servants.  his suffering revealed his soul’s capacity to exemplify fortitude, perseverance, long-suffering without complaint, and above all, radiant acquiescence..

the viewing and funeral attracted over 400 people to say goodbye and show their love and respect to my dad.  his death left an empty space and void in 100's of people's lives in addition to his family.  wherever he went he introduced himself, saying 'Hello, Bob Strong" with such a friendly disposition that people said goodbye feeling happy and valued, respected and loved.  he emanated the love of God so naturally that it was easy to be around him and always want more of him.  our family now talks about his 'legacy' -- how he has left all of us with a standard of kindness and what it means to 'do good unto others' that we all feel inspired to be like him..
dad, a fisher of men, on his boat, Good News, at the jersey shore

..we all face death and know it is an inevitable part of life, yet when it happens it opens up the heart to an ache and pain that enters every crevice of one's innermost being.  no matter how deep our faith and assurances are of the spiritual life of the soul beyond this earthly plane, we grieve the loss of our loved ones.

this was my first time being in the presence of death and witnessing how the spirit leaves the body.  i now have a deeper understanding of how the spirit of the soul is what attracts us to others -- it certainly isn't the body that remains living in our hearts.  the spirit that animated my dad's body is now reunited with its Creator.  i now find myself talking with and praying for my father's soul in a purely spiritual manner, relying on the spiritual bond of divine love that we shared in this life:
"In prayer there is a mingling of station, a mingling of condition. Pray for them as they pray for you! When you do not know it, and are in a receptive attitude, they are able to make suggestions to you, if you are in difficulty. This sometimes happens in sleep. but there is no phenomenal intercourse! That which seems like phenomenal intercourse has another explanation." The questioner exclaimed; "But I have heard a voice!" 'Abdu'l-Bahá said: "Yes, that is possible; we hear voices clearly in dreams. It is not with the physical ear that you heard; the spirit of those that have passed on are freed from sense-life, and do not use physical means. It is not possible to put these great matters into human words; the language of man is the language of children, and man's explanation often leads astray."
    ~Abdu'l-Baha, Abdu'l-Baha in London, p. 96
one of our outings together when our family lived in Rochester
Niagara Falls 2005
“..a father and mother endure the greatest troubles and hardships for their children; and often when the children have reached the age of maturity, the parents pass on to the other world. Rarely does it happen that a father and mother in this world see the reward of the care and trouble they have undergone for their children. Therefore children, in return for this care and trouble, must show forth charity and beneficence, and must implore pardon and forgiveness for their parents. So you ought, in return for the love and kindness shown you by your father, to give to the poor for his sake, with greatest submission and humility implore pardon and remission of sins, and ask for the supreme mercy.”
               ~Abdu'l-Baha, Baha'i World Faith, p. 329

1 comment:

  1. I cannot think of a better way to move on to the next world - with all that love around you, with your children and grandchildren beside you, touching you - singing you into the spiritual world. You succeeded in living spiritually while constrained by the physical body...you have and will inspire others to do the same. On a personal note, I would like to thank you for bringing Pamela into the world so that her path could cross mine.