Once a pilot, always a pilot. Farewell, dad, on your last flight! But we are all travellers in this life…
I got the ‘nudge out the door’ to move to Whangarei a while ago. I thought it was only to look after my mother (recently moved to a rest home) and live with Raewyn again (she got work up here, which she couldn’t in Kaiwaka). But last Saturday my father who had looked after mum for years at home, had a stroke – a massive brain bleed. He was 91. We four children stayed beside him, first at the hospital and later at the rest home, until the 25th when he died, slipping away so quietly, the two boys on one side and the two girls on the other side of the bed. In the five days he lay dying, mostly in a coma, grandchildren and great grandchildren said their goodbyes, many with weeping and outpourings of gratitude for all he had been to them.
When I saw him lying there on the high narrow bed at the emergency ward and he was wheeled away for a brain scan, I remembered the book Passages and thought how true that metaphor is for life. We are all wheeled or walk or are dragged from one stage to another through a lifespan, and nothing can long delay any one of those stages. So, here at last on the shores of the sea we come to the end of the fellowship, as Gandalf said to the hobbits before Frodo and he boarded the ship that would take them beyond the circles of this world. I said farewell in my own way as almost the only ‘Pagan’ present, feeling keenly the sharp divide in the evangelical mind between those of the faith and those who do not believe and are therefore not entitled to the hope of everlasting life, but rather the fear of everlasting punishment. I shared their love, though, and for me that is enough. ‘The one who loves lives in God and God in him’. 1st John, the Bible. I wasn’t looking for any signs as such, but the morning he died I went again with poppy my doglet to the big puriri tree in a patch of bush on the resthome grounds. I took a photo of the tree, and a beautiful light was angling down to the treetrunk (probably from a smear on the lense, but that’s not the point of course). Then my brother waved to me to hurry in, and it quietly happened, as our sisters prayed and sang to him and we held his hand.
When dad had died and I was walking and doing things with our children and Raewyn and my mother and brother and sisters, I felt clear-headed and knew that we had all clicked one site further on in the journey, and I felt I had to step up to be the father for our nuclear family – there was no backup father or grandfather any more on either side. And as I held our first grandson Bruno over my head and he smiled down at me I thought to him, ‘So you will be part of the send-off team when my own time comes…’ And that was a comfort – and sobering of course!
Here is the funeral sheet for tomorrow’s service. Note the pilot theme – he was a meticulous man, a good pilot and was training as a fighter pilot when the Second World War ended. As he was dying, though he couldn’t speak, I felt he was doing his final flight check on the personal level (he had already sorted all his practical affairs) . He was waiting for each person to come and say their farewells and maybe get clear about some things, before he took off into the Beyond.
Farewell dad. Now I need to hold a place just as you held one, for goodness and love and yes faith, though not as you knew it. Watch this space… And meanwhile we love and appreciate our mother who though diminished in her nervousness and vivid Irish imagination, still will grieve and miss her husband of 70 years.
Seize the day! And as the Moody Blues sang, ‘Love with all your might, before it’s too late.’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=O1s67MCZ5Lg