40 Days After a Good Man Is GoneIn our practice we often talk about 40 day sadhanas. We begin them usually because we want to change something, break a habit or build a new one, let go of something, or cultivate something else. We have had our moment of surrender, or our moment of inspiration; and now we're ready. Ready for something new. But how does one become ready to no longer have a father? To be fatherless. Is it even possible? It's certainly not something we choose; but it happens to all of us at one point or another.
So I have completed my first 40-day sadhana of being without him. It has been a long journey to get here. He was ill so long that it had been years since he had been the man I remembered--the man who was my father. And yet, there he was, flesh and blood and bone and breath. Burning away all the dross of a life well-lived but now gone, too soon.
I missed his last breath because instead of getting out of bed that morning when I woke up, I turned and wrapped my arms around my husband. In that moment I chose life and in that same moment, he let go. I had wanted to be there with him; but instead life, in its relentless nature, called me to lay there and breathe with my arms around my lover, my friend, my beloved. I chose the future. Seconds later my sister knocked on the door and said that my father was gone.
The night before we had all gathered around his bed and sang songs and hymns and spiritual songs, as the scripture says. We sang so loud I thought he might let go in that moment just to get some peace and quiet. But instead he continue to breathe, a fluttering sound in his throat, the rise and fall of his ribs, the last moments of good man going, too soon gone.
My sister and I bathed him and dressed him. All the aversion I had experienced throughout his illness fell away (I'm not good at those things); and suddenly I was good at this. I could hold his hand, and sing to him and read scripture. I could sit in silence and just be. I could do this. The hardest part is the strange juxtaposition of life in the midst of death. They don't belong in the same room, but there they are, existing side by side. The kids talking about inane college football games as if they mattered, or people arguing over politics, or the in-law saying outrageous things at the dinner table, or better yet, the comedy team that was the men from the funeral home who came to pick up my father's body. They could have been called, Mr. Magoo's Circus of Strange and Mythical Men. And the smell. One of the funeral attendants was a heavy smoker and the smell of those stale cigarettes against his worsted wool suit was almost more than I could bear against the back drop of my father's skin and bones. Later, my sister and I just laughed and laughed because it was so absurd. Life going on in the face of our no longer having a father was, is, so absurd. And yet, it does.
A few days later we held his memorial. People from all parts of his life came to say what a difference he had made in their lives. People told stories, his son-in-law eulogized him more beautifully than any of us could imagine, and people remembered him above all else as their friend.
He was a good man. He was a great man. The last of his kind.
And now I will continue to mark 90 days, 120 days, 1000 days, but this is not a sadhana that ends. My father is gone. And the hole that is left inside me, my brother, my sister, my mother, my nieces and nephews, all who knew him, that hole is invisible; because if people could see it, it would make life impossible. Don't say anything, please, I plead to myself quietly. There are no words. My father is gone.
He was a good man. He was a great man. He was the last of his kind.