Thursday, April 9, 2009

Death, part 1

My father passed away last week.

It was not unexpected. He was 89 and suffering from lung cancer and was declining rapidly in recent weeks, losing weight and losing the ability to move around. About ten days before he died, his doctor told him it was only a matter of a few days. Two or so days later, the visiting hospice person said he has a week left. And so he did die a week later.

He was conscious and alert almost to the end. About three days before he died he spoke with my sister by phone. He lived and died without fear. I never heard him say anything that indicated he had any fear about dying or death. I can say: he knew what was happening, and he was ready.

Once I got the call from my sister, I rushed home. It took an hour or so to make reservations for planes, hotel, and rental car, and another day to get across the country.

Despite all the frantic efforts I made the week before he died to verify the arrangements he said he had made, the funeral went off without hindrance.

I spoke a brief eulogy at the funeral. Of two things I am glad. One, I had thought about it for a few weeks prior to his death so I wasn't flummoxed, and Two, I wrote it down. I had been confident I could say it without putting it on paper, but an hour or two prior to the funeral, I wrote it down. I am glad I did as at the funeral I became upset, and if I had not written it down I am not sure I could have said everything I had planned to, or anything at all.

What can you say at a funeral? What can you say at your father's funeral? The only things one can say are to mention some things about his life, talk about some of the things he taught me, and then thank him for his teaching. And then to say goodbye.

It is a difficult moment to watch one's father's coffin being lowered into the ground.

We are born, we live, and then we die. That's the way it is. We focus so much on the first two and most of our lives ignore the third. I suppose I speak the truth when I say that the older one gets, the more the reality of the third comes into focus.