The hurricane had blasted through just four days earlier, and many houses were still without electricity. A cousin’s house just up the hill had lights, so my parents walked up there to read that evening. As they were getting ready to return home, Dad looked pale. Mom offered to get the car but he insisted on walking…across the street and down the hill and in at the once-upon-a-time scallop shell driveway, past the shed and almost to the crabapple trees.
He fell there.
He had fallen a number of times before. With help my mother had been able to get him up each time. But neighbors’ houses were dark and she didn’t want to bother anyone who might be sleeping.
So she called the police. Two young policemen arrived and addressed my father kindly with the words, “Can we help you, sir?”
“Oh no, I’m all right,” he replied in his characteristic fashion. They leaned down to take his hands and he reached up to them.
As they brought him to his feet, he slumped, and my mother knew in that instant he was gone.
He was. But a 9-1-1 call dictates what will follow.
The young men began CPR as my mother wrung her hands and said over and over,
“Stop! He has a living will! He’s 91 years old! He’s ready to die!
Leave him alone!!” To no avail.
She hated what they were doing to his body.
Afterwards she grieved mightily that she had not stayed beside him, holding his hand, kissing him, saying good-bye.
Instead she went inside, the flashlight from her walk lighting her way. She tried to call her doctor to somehow avert this awful mess. It was past 9:00 and the best she could do was leave a message.
An ambulance came. I presume that they continued CPR all the way to the hospital.
Was it his doctor who came and pronounced him dead? She didn’t call any of us that night.
I just know that when the phone rang the next morning and my husband answered it and said her name aloud, we both knew exactly why she was calling.
My father had been quite senile for ten years before he died. Friendly, charming, he introduced himself four times to the same person in thecourse of a party. I lived far away with my husband and young children during those years — having no real idea of the Life-Job my mother was doing.
For all the rest of my life Dad had been a busy hard-working doctor, doing house calls even at night right up until age 81 when my family took away the car keys.
My loss was not a close gutwrenching one; but more a huge gaping hole where someone had always been, never very present, but there.
All that explanation aside, when Dad died, I got a glimpse of spirit.
By the crabapple tree – I could see him as a bright orb of light shining above his body on the grass.
Where my mother grieved at what she had let happen, I saw him marveling, filled with curiosity:
“What are they doing? What are they doing now??”
At what point did he recognize that that was his body the young policemen were working on? At what point did he make the more astonishing discovery that he was spirit, a spark of light, leaving his earthly shell behind?
Ten or fifteen years earlier my sister had asked Dad if he believed in God.
“No,” was his direct answer.
“Why do you go to church then?” she persisted.
“Habit,” he replied.
Dad said he didn’t need any help from the policemen, and yet he raised up his arms.
Who was he looking at?
What did he see?
I believe that he saw something else when the young policemen reached down their hands to him: he saw and reached up to the two angels who were there to help him cross over.
“Oh, no, I’m all right.” It was what he truly believed about himself. And it was true in that moment. He was all right. He was ready to go. And my mother knew it.
I pondered these things, reflecting on that orb of light, astounded that what I believe but cannot possibly intellectualize could be there for me to see. And when I went again to look at his body in my mind’s eye, picturing it there beneath the crabapple trees, I discovered that all he had left behind was his overcoat.
The overcoat that went with his hat and his doctor’s bag.
The overcoat that dressed the man who gave rough, scratchy abrupt kisses, who never seemed to have a clue about what was happening in my life.
The overcoat that he wore on those countless house calls and hospital visits, recognizable to all his patients who adored him because helistened to them and heard about their aches and woes.
The overcoat that dressed the man who had grown up in a world with rules and values and judgments which he easily, freely, glibly applied.
I had received those judgments so often, and had fought and resisted them so hard.
Now, he had left his overcoat on the grass.
And I could see that the bright light which was him was not carrying the coat or the bag or the judgments with him on this next journey.
The judgments were in the overcoat pockets. He had no more need of them.
And here I was still carrying them – all the judgments I had taken on!
He was unburdened.
And he was showing me that we are spirit and we are all indeed all right.
Alison Eckels writes with a group at Cancer Lifeline in Seattle and on her own. Her father was an old-fashioned family doctor. His dinner table stories made clear that death is a part of life, as much as birth and all the years in between. Alison attended a Quaker school where they spoke of the Inner Light in all of us. Later she found a meditation group which taught that we are that light within, and our bodies are our home for each lifetime.