John’s dad passed away on the international day of peace, at least according to my pocket calendar. We were blessed to spend the last three weeks with him, staying in his home and focusing on his wants and needs for those few precious days. He departed this life surrounded by his four children, here in his home. He waited to go until they were all gathered; John’s sister arrived from Portland and had her turn to sit and talk to him for his last few minutes. Holding hands, he acknowledged her with clear, open eyes through the morphine haze of his final hours. Then Rocky was gone. An end that came too soon, yet was expected.
We’ve been preparing for his wake which will be at the lodge of the family dude ranch, sold two years ago, where John and I spent two decades keeping his aunt’s vision going. Being, among other things, a photographer, I’ve been helping with the slide show. Years of old photos of Jane and Rocky were scanned, a life full of travel, family, and friends. Images of the two of them among smiling faces in places all over the world. It’s no wonder John and I are so eager with wanderlust ourselves.
Sitting in their home, looking across the pastures, I’ve been reflecting on life and death and grieving. We’ve lost other relatives, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, over the years. An older generation ending their circle. We’ve also lost close friends in tragedy. Grief is grief, a river that draws us into its current. Sometimes we drift on the surface, others we are pulled below, gasping. Eventually we emerge in a place where the wound becomes a scar.
As adults, there have been four deaths that have most touched our lives, and the contrast of the experiences is significant. Two parents and two friends, in each loss the grief came in different flavors. Similar and familiar, yet in striking contrast. Sudden, Fluke, Protracted, and Violent; the means of death flavor the grief, blending in sweet and bitter, sadness and ache, and sometimes anger.
John’s mother, Jane, had health issues, but her end was not expected. Her last day was near perfect. She and Rocky joined friends out for brunch. They stopped to shop for flowers which she planted when they got home. She felt tired, so laid down for a nap. Rocky found her later, and she was gone. We found ourselves wishing for goodbyes and aching at the loss, yet celebrating the fact that her last day was one she would have loved.
We lost a friend to murder at the hands of his wife. Chris’ death left us raging at betrayal, a hurt as insistent as the loss. Healing from that grief was long and took a great deal of letting go of the anger: relief through forgiveness. They are like waters converging into one river, the Anger and the Grief. The only way to rise out of the current is to leave them both. Yet the combined pull is so much deeper and difficult to climb from.
Another friend died recovering from ankle surgery, a weird twist of fate that ended a life spent pushing limits, extreme. Leaving behind a vacant place in our lives and a wonder that he died from something so mundane rather than falling from a cliff while skiing.
And this loss, Rocky’s protracted ending, a fading away. Living, knowing the end is coming and learning to not brace ourselves in anticipation, but to stay in the moment. To spend the final days with him, a sacred time, until he flew and left us to join Jane and others who have passed.
The current carries us again to the place of healing. In the river we are buoyed by the love of friends and family, and at other times the air is knocked from us as we tumble against rocks on the bottom. But, the river is familiar, and we know that the way beyond is through.
Photo at the top is one of my photographs I have available through my account with iStockphoto.