On July 25th, I flew from San Francisco to New York to be with my family and my father during his last few weeks of life. I didn't think about it, though the need to go came with very short notice. I just felt the importance of going, and for once I listened to my intuition, my Heart-Wisdom, instead of the litany of Head-Reasons Why You Can't Possibly.
My father, Gerald Bennett Walters, or Jerry as he was known, was diagnosed in May 2006 with esophogeal-gastric cancer -- a disease with the worst of odds. He had the good fortune of being in relatively good health most of his life to that point, so hadn't needed medical care in decades. He was proud of this, yet also feared illness that might necessitate medical intervention, incapacitate him, and leave him in radical, vulnerable reliance on others. Perhaps this is a fear of many, and certainly many men.
Yet at each turn, though it was so clearly aligned with what he most feared, he took the step with courage, faced the overwhelm of mountains of new medical terminology and totally unknown outcomes, and opened up to the necessity of intense regimes of chemotherapy and radiation to kill the tumor and the cancer within him. He, and we, were blessed with an unexpected remission in early 2007, and for several months Dad lived his life with the sense of a man who knows he's been given a brief respite, a new -- or extended -- lease on life.
Then, in mid-July, seizures announced the return of the cancer, this
time in his brain. The diagnosis was similar to that of two of his
friends who'd died in the previous two months, and his own prognosis
was four weeks, maybe six. Looking at his options, Dad chose to enter
hospice care, opting for quality of whatever life remained to him. And
the family gathered near him to be with him and witness the last weeks
of his life, and share in his hospice care. He died on August 21st.
In exiting 'normal' life, by which I mean the routine that defines a sense of control and comforting rhythm in our day-to-day lives, I entered without much forethought into a zone of the Deep Feminine, sometimes called the Dark Feminine -- 'dark' in that it is beyond the 'seen' or easily defined reality; 'dark' in that we surrender any sense of control and move with another reality-stream altogether.
The weeks of being with Dad segmented themselves, in retrospect, into three, maybe four stages. First, the 8-10 days when his seizure medications allowed him the ability to visit with us and receive friends. He talked with us collectively, and individually; he watched movies, and savored his food, especially his desserts -- a much-appreciated luxury after months and months of not being able to eat solid foods.
The second phase came in with a sudden decline in his health, in a night that no one -- even hospice and Dad himself -- thought he would survive. He did, and just as one reads in the hospice literature, he 'resurged' or 'rebounded' for a few more days of, seemingly, settling any final concerns or fears for our own well-being, and also talking about his own not-knowing of how to let go, surrender into death. He was also more outspoken in wanting us near him, and telling us not to go far away from him. He sensed the nearness of death. In retrospect, this time was most precious in that it seemed designed to give all of us 'final reckoning' time.
The third phase was marked by decline, and Dad moving more and more within himself and outside of the reality or dimension that he had been in and that we were remaining in. As he drifted, we tended him and came closer and closer to the necessity that each of us release him. The caregiving is easy compared with the demand of releasing one so dear to you, who has shaped so much of your own way. The demand and finality of letting go.
And the fourth phase was Dad's passage from this life or dimension into, or through, death. In these last moments, he was surrounded by his wife and daughters, though all of us noted later that it really seemed that he had left us several days before. Still, during these days, we tended, we told him of our love for him, we laughed and cried together, and we -- each in our own time and way -- said goodbye and released him.
Though in retrospect these general rhythms are evident, during these moments and days there was no exactness, no certainty, no discernible rhythm, no 'schedule', no plan. There was only presence, empathy, compassion, feeling and sensing; a rawness and realness to navigate and be in; responding not to any preconceived agenda, but to what existed in that moment, or half-hour, or hour. A need or opportunity surfaced, and we responded to it. The days unfolded organically, in Kairos, not linear Chronos time.
This was Dad's last lesson for me, and there were many lessons in this last 18 months of his life. This was Sophia's time; an immersion in the Deep Feminine, where radical presence and a radical witnessing while at the same time participating in the Great Mystery and the most feared of all of the cycles of Life -- the release of the ways and things of a life, to the passage into Death.
It will be weeks and months, and perhaps even years, before the deep lessons and gnosis of these last weeks and months reveal their secret teachings to me, and through me. And yet I know now, I feel and sense now, that an initiation has been experienced for each of us who gathered at my father's side to mark his passage and celebrate his life, and be Holy Witnesses to his death.
During his life, my father helped to define my ability to effectively and very skillfully survive in a Masculine world. In the last weeks of his life, and through his passage into death, my father brought me into the Deep Valleys of the Feminine. He brought me home to my Self.