My father died in 1995, soon after his second marriage. He was a gentle man; I learned from him about quiet caring, silence, and love. But none of these qualities prepared him for the marriage he leapt into after my mother’s slow death from Alzheimer’s. And it did not take long to see that his new wife was abusing him: not all his “falls” were accidents; he was belittled in front of others; and money was spent extravagantly as he shrugged helpless. After he had a stroke and had made quick progress in rehab, she did not let him return home. During visits he learned that more of his possessions were gone, given to her friends or relatives.
After another stroke, only three words remained: “No,” “OK,” and “Goodnight” (meaning goodbye, finished, no more). However, he fully understood what we said or asked. The abuse continued but no one could intervene. Adult Protective Services would not respond without his consent because he was still “of sound mind.” He had said earlier he would do nothing to embarrass her.
One day he made it clear through his three words and motions that he would no longer eat or drink and he asked that I remain with him: he had decided to die. Years earlier during my hospice work we’d discussed a person’s right to refuse food and water. With my professional hat on, I’d said I believed people had the right to choose when faced with a terminal illness. But this was my own father AND he did not have a terminal illness. This was deeply painful for me but his determination was clear. The staff and I accepted his decision and gave him support. I signed all the forms and word went out that he was near death.
During the second day I felt a powerful presence in his room. His attention was fixed on beings invisible: “Yes, I can do that. . . . Is there water there? . . . Yes, remember Love. I will remember Love . . . OK, yes, remember Love.” Wow! He was speaking in sentences, with many additional words. With me and others in our bodies, he had only three words. With beings from the other side, he had more vocabulary and even sentences. (A gerontological neuroanatomist could offer no explanation for this and had never heard such a story.) I quickly learned to say, “Remember Love,” when he became agitated or uncomfortable: he immediately became peaceful.
His death was beautiful, surrounded by mystery and Spirit. God was definitely present. But he chose to die to escape abuse! Was this death beautiful !?!
I was exhausted, confused, angry, and grateful. And grief was deep. I went home desperate for rest, nurture, and safety. But that welcome silence exploded with a gunshot and death on our corner, followed by a mass of yellow crime scene tape and police: the victim had been abusing his wife. I felt shattered, overwhelmed.
WHERE was God? God was certainly present as my father died. Was He also present during the abuse and now in this violence outside my window? It took months to integrate the absolute beauty of his death with the violence surrounding it and to find God again. I learned that my job always is to stay tuned to God, listen, and carry peace within.