A week ago I came home from visiting my Dad in Florida, a whirlwind visit precipitated by a phone call saying that he was not eating and was extremely agitated and aggressive. The hospital diagnosed him with heart failure and recommended that he be put into hospice care or a nursing home with just palliative care. The time was near. We had tickets to Florida for July but even now in June we were afraid we would be too late. I felt a strong inner pressure that I had to go to say goodbye. I knew this meant I had to travel on my own because my husband was busy. I am not used to doing that and had to work hard to imagine I could pull it off. All of these thoughts came in the middle of the night but by morning I knew I would go. We ordered a plane for two days later.
I am still marveling at the miraculous nature of the trip and found myself trying to understand it all better. The insights I am getting have both helped me and others so I am going to try to share the story here.
My father is already over one hundred years old so his passing should not be a surprise. But those who know Dad, know that he has always been very active and rode his racing bike and drove his car until he was almost a hundred. But shortly after he passed that land-mark he fell into extreme dementia and landed in assisted living much to the dismay of his children. To make matters worse he is stuck in Florida where he and our stepmother have a winter home. This means that all of his children are at least a three hour plane-ride away. Three of my sisters visited him in February, so now it was my turn to make the trip.
The night before I left, I happened to have my class in Nada Yoga, which is abut using music for healing, based on ancient techniques. I sent an email saying that I wouldn’t be coming, telling about my father. The teacher, Tal Coleman, responded that I could come anyway and she would set up a healing session for him. I liked the idea and managed to get myself packed so that I could make it. The session was very powerful as the whole group chanted my dad’s name, imagining him in the center of the circle. During the ceremony, I got the sense that he had let go and was peaceful. Others got the same feeling. Some saw him smiling in a green landscape. During the chant I got a clear image of my purpose and intention for the visit.
I was to bring him Peace by holding myself deep in contact with Essence Presence. I also realized that I should bring my travel-speakers and play Italian opera music for him- as that is his most favorite thing in life. I imagined that I would sit at his bedside and do this as he slept. I did a lot of preparation to make sure I could hold the Essence energy. I also set up a circle of friends who sent healing and checked in to see how things were going. I felt their closeness and support throughout the week.
After my long journey, the first thing I found out when I called my stepmother was that he was now calm and no longer aggressive and eating a tiny bit. Wow that was a huge shift. I thought about the healing chant but of course it is easy to dismiss that as coincidence. It was too late to go to the nursing home where my stepmother had placed him. So I would have to wait until the morning.
What I discovered about myself as I began the journey, even on that first night, was that my heart was wide open. This felt important as it seemed that everyone I met was open, kind and helpful to me. Every staff member at the hotel seemed to want to help me and several give me free coupons for the breakfast buffet. The bartender in the hotel restaurant shared with me that his mother had died a month ago. We had many deep conversations during the week as I ate dinner mostly at the hotel. Another situation easily resolved was about getting to the nursing home because I didn’t want to drive myself. This was fixed by the woman at the hotel reception who connected me with a taxi driver friend who was willing to drive me back and forth every day at a discounted price. He turned out to be a wonderful support and we also had nourishing conversations during the long rides. Hugs and gratitude when we said goodbye.
These are just a few of the small things that were smoothed out and seem to flow with such ease during the week. And then there was my dad.
When I arrived at the nursing home that first morning, I was shocked at how my Dad looked but surprised to see him in a wheelchair although not awake. He came to periodically during the day and at some point I played some music, which seem to get his attention. I fed him about half of the baby mash food put out for him. This seemed like a good start.
The next day when I arrived I found him sitting in the wheel chair laughing out loud at something on the TV in the Day Room. When he went to rehab he was hot! Threw the ball back and forth, was put on the stationary bike which he managed quite well and then managed to stand for a few minutes holding on to a walker. I was amazed.
The following day when I played his opera for him in the Day Room, he sang loudly to his favorite aria, using the Italian words correctly! People gathered round. One woman said she finally got her voice back. People kept saying hello to us. When he got to the gym he went way beyond the day before, smiling and flirting with the nurses. The high was when he stood at the parallel bars and instead of standing on his toes as they encouraged him to do, he lifted his feet off the ground showing the strength that still was in his arms, grinning like a winning athlete while the staff stood in shock! The whole room had to come over to watch him. That day he walked three times as far as the day before. I think it was that day that he was put on regular food and fed himself eating mostly all of it including my pumpkin pie.
At one point one of the rehab staff asked what he used to do and I told her that in addition to sports he loved opera. She looked shocked and then came over to us and sang the very aria he had sung the day before!! I got goose bumps.
A couple of days before I was to leave I got the idea in the middle of the night to order him an old fashioned Walkman and a couple of Opera Aria CDs with his favorite singers. I paid extra money to have them sent one day delivery. That meant they would arrive hopefully on my last day there. But by three pm they hadn’t come yet. I scrambled to find someone who would take responsibility for not letting them disappear. The “opera” lady agreed she would do this. And twenty minutes before I left she came running saying that the stuff had arrived. When I brought the package to my Dad he was like a little kid excited about opening it and holding the CDs when they got unpacked. The opera lady said that we should play them on the boom box in the rehab gym and I said goodbye to him as he swayed happily in his wheel chair to Puccini and Verdi.
The last few days Dad became very loving. He kissed my hand repeatedly and said I love you. I told him I loved him too and thanked him for all he had given me. This was very unlike him to be so affectionate and open about his feelings. It made my heart even open more.
When I was boarding the plane on the way home to Norway, I was stopped and told to step aside. Then I was given a new boarding pass that had put me in business class! I swayed happily all the way home.
I could see that the trip was blessed with flow, synchronicity, love, connection and grace. It wasn’t until I was home for a few days and got into a snit with my husband about nothing, feeling my heart closing, that I began to try to understand the cause of the flow in the States and the loss of it when I got home. As I reflected carefully over the situation, I tried to see what was special about the trip. These are the things that stand out: I was totally focused on helping my Dad. I didn’t plan anything for myself, spent most of my time in my room, without TV or even reading. I did go out to a nearby restaurant a couple of times and picked up some things in a store nearby but wasn’t very interested in doing anything. Despite this, I never felt bored or restless. I was alone but felt very spacious, free and happy.
I began to wonder if the clue was focusing on another person’s needs, with a clear goal to be of service and an intention to serve from Essence, Presence and Peace. When I got home, I fell into an ego-state again. I started focusing on my own needs – what my husband wasn’t doing good enough. I noticed that I starting feeling bored – wanted to be entertained, etc. You get the picture
The thing that strikes me is it must be love that is the motivation and source. But it may also be the fact that I thought my father was near death – so there was a sense of urgency to it. Also the desire to help him be freed of the fear that I believed caused his aggressive behavior. This acting out could have also been a result of Alzheimer. I remember wondering if the presence of Essence could reach a mind lost in Dementia. Well I think I got the answer.
The next question was – could I reach into the depths of my own mind and transform my attitude from self-concentration, focus on my own welfare to the neglect of others, to an attitude of “unbearable compassion” for others and the world.
And then today I came across some sentences in a Buddhist book I am currently reading that seem to sum up the whole experience. The lightning vehicle of enlightenment is for those who wish to help others as much as possible. Instead of being confined in our own petty reality, we learn to move into the larger sphere of universal concern. This automatically liberates us from most of our problems. We break free from the neurotic obsession with ourselves and open our hearts to others. This is called Bodhichitta.
Dad is still with us. He is up and down. But he seems peaceful and is eating. I hope someone is playing his music for him. His time hasn’t come yet. But I am grateful I went to see him and experience the true power of Essence in action. And I wonder if the one who was healed was me. Namaste!